Rest in peace

A compromise promises to end a battle over development in Greenwood Cemetery

A year-long clash over the fate of a patch of land in Dallas' historic Greenwood Cemetery is apparently about to end, with both sides in the dispute hammering out a compromise.

The feuding parties--Columbus Realty Trust and Friends of Greenwood Cemetery--agreed to a tentative compromise over the development of 2.7 acres in the graveyard on September 9, just one day before the Dallas City Council was to vote on a proposed zoning change for the property. Columbus was seeking the change to allow construction of a four-story, upscale apartment complex on the land, which opponents believed was the site of numerous paupers' graves from early in the century.

Under the new plan--which the City Council is expected to consider at its September 24 meeting--Columbus will scale back its building site to slightly more than one acre, says Columbus vice president John Allums. The remaining land will go back to the cemetery. Representatives from Columbus and Friends of Greenwood have agreed it is "highly unlikely" that any graves exist on the latest site. Early city records indicate that only buildings had been located there, says council member Veletta Lill, who helped broker the compromise.

Allums, who has supervised the Greenwood project since Columbus bought six acres of land late last year from the Greenwood Cemetery Association, calls the agreement a "win-win situation for everyone."

"The cemetery will get the money sorely needed to make improvements, and the preservationists can be happy that the ground has no graves on it," says Allums.

Greenwood, site of several graves of pioneering Dallas politicians and business leaders, sits in the middle of Uptown--one of the city's hottest retail and residential real estate markets. As part of its preparation of the site, Columbus paid for an archaeological dig, which turned up 69 unmarked graves, believed to be part of a massive potter's field in the back section of the cemetery. As a result of public pressure, Columbus agreed to scale back its plan from six to 2.7 acres.

But preservationists remained unsatisfied. They claimed that their own investigation of burial records and other documents revealed as many as 29 more graves on the site. They continued to fight its development. Despite a decision by the Dallas Plan Commission last May to grant a zoning change, the opposition continued to mount.

Frances James, an early opponent of the construction plans and a founder of Friends of Greenwood, is slightly more cautious in her characterization of the agreement than the other players in the long drama.

"I guess I would say I'm not depressed, but I wouldn't say I'm completely optimistic either. It's taken so long, and there have been a lot of setbacks," she says. "And it isn't exactly clear if, in 20 years down the line, the property won't be developed anyway. A lot of us won't be around to keep watch," says the 74-year-old James.

--Holly Mullen

 
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