Park Cities Really Outdid Themselves in 2014

Two days ago in this space, Observer managing editor Patrick Williams (a.k.a. Buzz) rehashed the moments that defined life in Dallas during the past 12 months -- Ebola, dick pics and all. Everything Buzz cites is important and true, but the list, like all year-end recaps, suffers from a recency bias, i.e. the human tendency to interpret recent events as more significant than they are. What will stand out when historians look back 10 or 25 or 50 years from now, when Ebola has been supplanted by the next terrifying African plague and dick pics just aren't that funny anymore?

Residents of Highland Park and University Park acting like douchebags, that's what. When time has given observers the proper wisdom and perspective, 2014 will be remembered as the year the Park Cities jumped the shark.

Critics will argue that this happened long ago, that the presence in the heart of North Dallas of two municipalities whose basic purpose is to keep their residents from having to subsidize the infrastructure and education for poor people puts the Park Cities so far on the other side of the proverbial shark -- to say nothing of any swordfish, whales, giant squid, etc. -- as to make any discussion of when the leap occurred pointless. This is a fair point. It's also fair to note that the Park Cities will almost certainly jump an additional sea creature next year, and the year after that, and the year after that.

Those quibbles aside, the Park Cities really out-Park Citied themselves in 2014. Let's review the evidence:

Development Over the summer, Dallas gave developers the green light to replace the aging Saltillo Apartments on Cole Avenue with a luxury, seven-story mid-rise. The decision was a no brainer for the city. A few dozen fugly garden apartments would be replaced by 250 or so high-end units. The city would reap the obvious economic benefits of an $80 million development and would collect millions more in property tax revenue. A choice piece of property along the Katy Trail in one of the city's hottest real estate markets would finally be developed into something resembling the land's highest and best use.

Highland Park, which sits directly across the Katy Trail from the Saltillo Apartments, didn't share Dallas' excitement. After an aggressive lobbying campaign in which the town and its proxies warned that the development was an assault on residents' privacy that would transform the beloved running path's into a dark and joyless canyon, it filed a lawsuit. HP's explicit claim was that Dallas was ignoring its own development principles as outlined in 2006's Forward Dallas! Comprehensive Plan. The unstated subtext was that Highland Park should be allowed to decide what gets built in Dallas. A Dallas County judge called bullshit on the town's claims earlier this month, but one has to marvel at the chutzpah.

Airplanes The sunset of Wright Amendment restrictions on Love Field in October has been an unqualified boon for Dallas. More flights to more places equals more revenue for the city-owned airport.

Not so for Highland Park, which is paying former Dallas County Judge Margaret Keliher $4,000 per month to air its grievances that the extra airplanes are making too much noise. So far the town seems to have made little progress. Keliher has not ruled out a lawsuit.

Book Ban In a possible misapprehension of the purpose of the American Library Association's annual ritual, Highland Park Independent School District celebrated this year' Banned Books Week by -- wait for it -- banning seven books.

The book ban was an attempt to placate hypersensitive parents concerned that their impressionable high-school age children might learn of the existence of discomfiting things, like sexual intercourse (Garth Stein's The Art of Racing in the Rain, for example, had a sex scene) and poor people ( The Working Poor: Invisible in America was nixed without apparent irony).

After a predictable outcry from free speech advocates and other rational humans, the ban was reversed by Superintendent Dawson Orr, who split the baby by requiring parental permission slips to be signed for certain titles. Inexplicably the district isn't requiring parental approval for smuttiest book of them all: Genesis.

Cars Have you ever noticed how large Dallas thoroughfares (e.g. Lovers Lane, Preston Road, Mockingbird Lane) narrow almost to a footpath as soon as they hit the Park Cities, almost as if UP and HP were intentionally making it as painful as possible for outsiders to traverse? Well, Highland Park hired a traffic consultant to figure out how to make the trip even more painful.

Among the suggestions delivered to the town council earlier this month: 25 mph speed limits, even narrower roads and resident-only parking around SMU. "We're not trying to wall our community off," Highland Park Mayor Joel Williams told The Dallas Morning News. This is true, if only in the narrow, technical sense that the town hasn't yet erected a physical barrier between it and Dallas. This is a metaphorical wall, one that just towed seven cars whose drivers had the audacity to park on HP streets during recent high school football playoff games at SMU. Attempt to scale the wall at your own risk.

Hyperventilating Moms Earlier this year, developer Luke Crosland attempted to build a luxury high-rise apartment complex in Preston Center. The proposal died for complicated reasons, former Mayor Laura Miller chief among them, but not before it inspired a hysterical flood of opposition from Park Cities moms convinced that Crosland was out to destroy Highland Park ISD.

Never mind that Highland House, as the development was called, catered to empty nesters wealthy enough to afford $4,000 per month in rent. The moms were convinced that it was only a matter of time before the 27 stories were packed sardine-like with families too poor to buy a house in the Park Cities but still seeking a foothold in HPISD. Here's an excerpt from a typical email the moms sent to Dallas' City Plan Commission:

[T]his proposed rezoning could essentially sink [Highland Park ISD]. ... I think it's a joke to believe that the developers aim to market this to "empty nesters." Anyone with intelligence will know that the primary residents will be those wishing to get their children into HPISD schools without purchasing property or paying taxes to do so.

These emails were punctuated by a letter from University Park Mayor Olin Burnett Lane Jr., who threatened that the construction of Highland House would be "counterproductive" to Dallas and UP's joint efforts to address vexing traffic signal issues at Preston and Northwest Highway, hinting at a Bridgegate-like traffic snarl.

In the interest of poetic justice, we suggest that the city of Dallas turn the Preston Center parking garage, which is in the Dallas city limits but feeds into Highland Park Schools, into an enormous, Robert Moses-style tenement.

Send your story tips to the author, Eric Nicholson.

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