Blame it on the rain or the full parking lot, but just about 30 folks packed into the auditorium at Skillman Southwestern Branch Library last night to hear SMU's presentation on its plans to expand south of Mockingbird Lane on a seven-acre plot of land that includes not only the former Mrs. Baird's bakery, but also that very busy 7-Eleven. Matter of fact, if you have fond memories of that 7-Eleven -- which SMU-hired attorney Scott Deatherage referred to as "the seventh 7-11 ever built" -- you'll have until September to get your Big Gulp on before it's bulldozed.
The university plans to raze the existing structures to make way for indoor and outdoor tennis courts, as well as a "throwing field" where SMU athletes will have plenty of room to toss their discuses, javelins and other track-and-field whatnots. SMU officials also say that the southern sliver of the property will house "a data center" and an "enclosed power station."
But the main concern amongst the residents who showed up was the contaminated groundwater on the site, and the Municipal Setting Designation the university has applied for from the city of Dallas. When there's nasty groundwater on a site, the MSD prohibits the contaminated H2O from being used as drinking water. Once the MSD restriction is in place, SMU would not be required by the state to bring the contaminated groundwater up to acceptable "drinking level."
So, yeah, SMU would have less clean up, but that's not to say they won't have their work cut out for them. Deatherage, who was recently named "Dallas Environmental Lawyer of the Year" for 2010 by The Best Lawyers in America, lead most of the presentation and Q&A portion of the night. And he assured everyone in attendance that when SMU's finished with remediation, "the property will meet residential standards."
"When this is done, your kids could run around and play on the property," he said.
The majority of the folks in attendance were of the well-over-40 crowd. A few were wearing SMU ballcaps, and a woman near the front sipped ice water from a plastic SMU tumbler. And, we're sure the attendance would have been greater had there been more than 44 parking spots. (We witnessed several cars, some with SMU vanity plates, pull into the full parking lot, drive through and exit right back onto Skillman.)
Lori Trulson, senior environmental coordinator for the city of Dallas's Office of Environmental Quality, opened the meeting by explaining a bit about the MSD program, which she said she manages for the city.
She then turned the floor over to Deatherage for a PowerPoint slideshow that touched on three main topics surrounding the plans: the redevelopment, the environmental conditions of the site and the MSD program. But for those of us who had read the FAQ prior to the meeting, there wasn't much new information presented -- other than when we learned the contamination patterns of the groundwater (it moves southeast there) and the historical tidbits, like that being the seventh 7-Eleven.
Once it was time for the audience to lob questions at the SMU folks, the topic kept bouncing back to groundwater and soil contamination.
But, that didn't stop the questions, and people kept asking about the contaminated soil and water and how much soil SMU was planning to remove from the site, to which the officials kept answering: As much as it takes to get things approved.
When people kept pressing to find out if SMU would leave any nasty stuff in the ground, well, Deatherage admitted: "In terms of removing everything that's out there, no ..."
One woman was concerned about how liable the businesses that did the contaminating would be, but the SMU folks basically said they bought the property after "a fairly extensive review was conducted." So, essentially, the as-is property is now their mess to clean up.
Another woman asked about the voluntary cleanup program that SMU was participating in, how the clean-up would work, and "Who's going to be making sure [SMU] does the job?"
Trulson chimed in.
"It'll all be evaluated," she told the crowd. "They'll be held to certain standards, and the project manager within the voluntary clean-up program ensures that those standards are met."
"And that's fine," one woman in the crowd interrupted, "I'm just trying to figure out who the fault, who the responsible party is. Is it 7-Eleven? Is it SMU? Is it ...?"
Trulson volleyed right back to the defense of SMU. "Right now, SMU is taking responsibility for something they didn't cause," she said. "But they're saying that they'll clean it up to whatever standards that they're told they need to clean it up to."
Deatherage said SMU will meet the environmental standards that would allow the site to be developed for residential use. "Our experts have designed an approach to these properties and these chemicals, in both soil and ground water that will ensure that the environment and human health are protected," he said.
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When asked about the traffic in the area and traffic studies of that intersection, one SMU official chimed in, "There will be less." Philip Jabour, SMU's associate vice president of planning, design, and construction, said, "Currently we are conducting traffic studies along Airline and Mockingbird and other areas that are affected by this development."
Jabour also pointed out that on the slide that show the proposed construction plans, the vehicular access to the facilities will not be on Mockingbird. Instead, students will be entering off the frontage road of 75.
We then asked about the closing of the old 7-Eleven. Seems SMU has been leasing the property to the Dallas-based convenience store chain since the university bought the property from a private owner "sometime within the last 5 years" according to SMU officials in attendance.
The meeting ended rather abruptly when the library closed at 8 p.m., but just before we were rush-ushered out of the auditorium, one guy, after hearing the presentation and the questions and answers that followed, and remarking that since no one would ever be drinking this ground water, he offered up the following nugget: "So, what's the problem?"