Council Members Debate Land Usage for Parks

Dallas City Council meeting
Dallas City Council | Image Noah DeGarmo/The Dallas Express

As the City is working toward turning vacant plots of land into public parks, some council members are questioning whether parks should take precedence over housing and business development.

During the most recent meeting of the Parks, Trails, and Environment Committee, the Trust for Public Land (TPL) briefed committee members on 15 city-owned pieces of land throughout Dallas that could be turned into parks within the next four years.

TPL official Robert Kent cited Mayor Eric Johnson’s prioritization of public parks as what prompted this project. However, some committee members voiced hesitation on going all in with converting all of these parcels of land into parks.

Council Member Carolyn King Arnold said her constituents in District 4 are more in need of housing, grocery stores, and healthcare facilities than parks.

“We’re looking for housing stock that will help grow our schools, help bring in new employees as we get new businesses,” she said. “Those are the type of the things we’re looking for.”

Arnold said Dallas County Health and Human Services has designated four zip codes in her district as being in dire need of healthcare facilities.

“We are in a food desert,” she continued. “We’re constantly being fed a steady diet of inferior products when it comes to food supply. We can’t and we’re not attracting businesses that will promote the healthier style of living.”

Arnold said her district has “a need to put in what the people are looking for,” such as housing, healthcare facilities, and food providers that sell healthy foods.

She said there is one piece of land in her district that could be converted into a park because there is no other suitable use for it, but aside from that, other options should be considered.

“We have some needs for those facilities in my area that could be better served by different types of services,” she said, adding that the parks already in her district are in need of maintenance and upgrades.

Council Member Chad West told KERA News that he agreed that parks are important but should not be prioritized over housing or public safety.

“Parks are, I would say, a right…as a tax-paying citizen, we should have them,” said West, per KERA. “I don’t think they should take priority over housing or our ability to generate economic income to pay for police and fire.”

However, Kent told the committee that none of the 15 properties currently being considered “would be suitable for affordable housing.”

The TPL declined to make public where the 15 plots are located at this time in case they were unable to secure permission to move forward with those parcels from Dallas Water Utilities (DWU), as many of these properties are currently managed by that department for stormwater maintenance.

“We’d get the horse ahead of the cart,” Kent said. “We’re in the final discussions right now with DWU.”

“We don’t want to make it public yet because we don’t want to promise something and get a neighborhood excited if it turns out that it’s not a suitable property,” he added.

Greening Czar Garrett Boone said the properties could function as parks without compromising their use for DWU, as stormwater maintenance systems are located below the ground.

“We can utilize that land twice,” he said. The move to develop more parks was promoted by Mayor Johnson’s Greening Czar initiative.

In his November 2022 State of the City address, Johnson requested an inventory of all unused land owned by the city that could potentially be turned into parks, which over the past year has led to the current inventory of 15 properties. In May, Johnson announced $1.25 million in ARPA funding for the development of these parks.

Furthermore, the Community Bond Task Force recently finalized its recommendations for the upcoming $1.1 billion bond program, which includes nearly $350 million for parks and trails.

Despite reservations from some committee members, Kathy Stewart, council member and committee chair, said she is “particularly excited” about the project.

Council Member Jesse Moreno added, “We all have a commitment, like the mayor does, to ensuring that we’re protecting our greenspaces and that we’re climbing that ladder to being the best park system, not only in North Texas but in Texas as a whole.”

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