Residents of Jubilee Park, the neighborhood of modest single-family homes just north of Fair Park, have become conditioned to distrust, if not fear, the Dallas Independent School District. For as long as we can recall, DISD has grappled with plans for a new O.M. Elementary school in the area, and residents, kept in the dark about DISD's plans, once worried their homes would be snatched up through eminent domain so the district could forge ahead with plans for a bigger, better 2008 bond-money-funded school that could accommodate more than 800 students, 300 over its current capacity.
Residents' worries haven't been unfounded. The district began eminent domain proceedings to take several homes, then backed off, continuing a flip-flop that kept neighbors teetering at the edge of their porches. And as of just a few weeks ago, the historic elementary school is a pile of rubbish, as are some homes that have also been torn down, and the fate of the land is still in question, pending City Plan Commission approval.
At the moment, at least, the argument has boiled down to a parking lot.
This afternoon, DISD faced the City Plan Commission hoping commissioners would rubber-stamp the replatting of two separate tracks of land -- one where the old school once stood, and an area across Philip Avenue that would be used for a faculty parking lot.
"They have destroyed this community piece by piece, bit by bit," Norma Hernandez told commissioners, referring to the district. "We are a community, we are a neighborhood, and we want to stay that way." She says she doesn't want the parking lot bringing more traffic, noise and exhaust to her street.
The item was dismissed, for now -- through a technicality. The language in the public notice did not accurately describe the proposal. The item can come in front of the commission again in a month once the wording is corrected.
For a neighborhood with a name that belongs in Candy Land, this has been a bitter war.
DISD's longtime representative Karl Crawley, of Masterplan Consulting, told commissioners that, given the land the district was able to acquire, this plan was the safest and most logical -- "the best we could do." As for the use of eminent domain, he said, "[The lots] were purchased on an agreed price between the owner and the district."
"There was thought of doing eminent domain, and we may have started the process, but we stopped," Crawley said in response to commissioner Sally Wolfish bringing up a letter that was sent to neighborhood residents. Responding to another question from the commission, he said that the district is finished purchasing land in the area unless someone approaches them offering to sell their property.
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"Everyone who has lived here has lived here for a very long time," said Shawn Busari, whose family home the district tried to buy for a lousy $50,000. "I don't know if any of you have ever felt a sense of betrayal, because this is what it's become."
At the conclusion of the meeting, Wolfish clarified that the replat request was denied not because of "merit" but because of the technical "error."
"We'll come back," Hernandez told Busari as they left.
"And we'll come in larger numbers," Busari said.