The City has a $5 million plan on the drawing board to expand and upgrade the municipal golf course at Tenison Park on Samuell Boulevard. However, what sounds at first like a simple proposal has run into a buzzsaw of opposition from a cadre of activists from some of the nearby neighborhoods.
After a series of moves and countermoves at City Hall, the opponents managed to get a temporary restraining order issued on Thanksgiving Day to halt the plan’s initial phase, which was to start the next day. Then, in early December, the same judge granted a permanent injunction, which the City Attorney’s office is appealing.
The City’s plans for the golf course include upgrading the facilities, with an eye on drawing more users from out-of-towners here at conventions and the like. So far, so good, but the opponents argue that the plan, which calls for the removal of anywhere from 262 to 740 trees (depending on whom you ask) would damage the environment and the park’s natural beauty.
The opponents argue that the new configuration, under which greens fees would rise from $17 to $39 and carts would be required for an added fee, would take a municipal course in inner-city Dallas and make it more “exclusive.”
Of course, many of the surrounding suburbs now have competing “muni” courses with comparable fees and amenities, and the City has two other high-quality and attractive courses, Cedar Crest in Oak Cliff and L.B. Houston in Pleasant Grove. However, many East Dallasites grew up on stories like the legendary exploits of Lee Trevino hustling Tenison Park duffers using only a quart Dr Pepper bottle — which causes anything that makes the old course seem less “populist” a sensitive issue.
The City, on the other hand, says upgrading the Tenison Park course is necessary to compete with the myriad of high-quality golf courses in the Dallas area. The City would plant more than 800 new (albeit smaller) trees in City parks to replace the ones being removed. Under the plan, revenues from the course should go up substantially, which would go into the City’s general fund. The Park Board and the entire City Council have strongly supported the proposal.
Complicating the situation is that the Tenison family’s original 1923 deed to the City stipulated that the land was to be used for public purposes, and the judge was apparently convinced that, at least arguably, the City’s plan would not benefit the “public.” From a municipal law standpoint, however, what is deemed to be a “public” purpose is pretty broadly defined, with a city’s elected policy-makers (that is, the City Council) being the ultimate interpreters of what that is, absent some illegality or abuse of discretion. There’s at least a pretty good chance the appeals court will see it the same way.
This issue has stirred deep and sincere passions on both. Tenison and Samuell-Grand parks are oases of beauty in the midst of some very socially and economically diverse East Dallas neighborhoods, and the golf course has long afforded those of more modest means a chance to play there. Yet, we also expect the City to maintain first-class, competitive facilities and at the same time be fiscally conservative and even produce revenue if possible.
The bet here is that the plan will be delayed somewhat but will ultimately happen in some form. One would hope some more discussion of these issues might take place in the meantime between the City and neighborhood opponents, about, for example, putting some of the revenues into the City’s reforestation fund. Time will tell, but for now, unfortunately, it’s in the hands of the judges and lawyers.