City Hall

"Trees Do Not Vote" and Other Highlights From Contentious Council Talk About a Walmart

Speaking of Dwaine Caraway ...

The city council just voted on that Walmart Supercenter proposed for Ledbetter and R.L. Thornton, and though it ultimately passed unanimously it was no simple thing -- far from. It was quite the discussion -- heated at times, thoughtful at others. On the surface it was about trees, about city staff and conservationists' concerns that Walmart will turn a small forest near Five Mile Creek into firewood. But in the end it was really about north versus south, black versus white, Big Business versus little people -- all the usual things, in other words.

Caraway gave not one but two speeches, each passionate and occasionally rambling; there was something in there about "racoons and things running into people's houses because of these trees." When Sandy Greyson proposed adding a friendly amendment demanding Walmart do a better job of saving the trees, he absolutely refused.

"I'm tired of begging," Caraway said, his voice on the verge of cracking. "I'm truly tired as an African-American of having to plead, prove up to certain standards. We're sitting here transforming a community, a whole section of Dallas. And how dare either myself or anybody who wants to go to Walmart, which has come willing to the neighborhood ... and at the 11th hour negotiate. The signal that it sends is that other folks and other stores -- H-E-B, Central Market -- they don't want to come and go through this. They don't want to come to the southern sector if we're talking about trees. ... When we are doing development in other areas across the city, we don't have to go through all this." Again, he said, "I'm through begging." Then he said it again. And again.

Caraway and Tennell Atkins and Vonciel Jones Hill did not take kindly to folks from north of the Trinity coming to City Hall today to ask council to fix a broken tree ordinance. The three council members saw them as outsiders from Irving, from Richardson, from University Park trying to sabotage development in the south.

Said Caraway: The reason southern Dallas has such glorious trees is because there's been no development there. "It's an insult when you're trying to stop the development of southern Dallas."

Said Atkins: "I'd be glad to take the Galleria and NorthPark to southern Dallas and move some of my trees to North Dallas." He said: Trees are nice, but "trees do not vote."

Said Hill: "You do not live where I live. I find it offensive that you believe you have the right to tell us what development should come to our community that has for so long been starved for development. Mr. Caraway is exactly correct: If we had the Galleria and some of those other things that developed north of the Trinity, we wouldn't have the trees."

Sandy Greyson tried to explain: This isn't about stopping Walmart, but about trying to preserve the tree canopy and asking Walmart to replace each tree taken down for the Supercenter. "What they're asking for is some consideration about how trees help air quality," she told her colleagues. "We breathe this air, all of us. A tree canopy contributes greatly to air quality in this region." As for North Dallas, she said: "North Dallas was cotton fields anyway. We didn't have a lot of trees" to chop down. So, there? But she knew hers was a losing battle. She said in Dallas, economic development trumps all.

Mayor Mike Rawlings, wrapping up the discussion, took issue with that. "That shouldn't be the case, and I don't think it is. Public safety and the health of our citizens come first. We can have economic development at the same time, so for my north star I do not want economic development to be the guiding light."

And with that, everyone voted "aye."

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky