(Candy’s Dirt) – The City of University Park wants a “boundary adjustment” to take ownership of 18 acres in Dallas that includes Boone Elementary and Northway Christian Church across from NorthPark Center.

Masterplan land consultant President Dallas Cothrum is involved, and Dallas City Council members are questioning whether there’s a benefit to Dallas. District 13 Councilwoman Gay Donnell Willis has been working on the project for almost two years and said recently she thinks it makes sense.

“I know at face value when you see the words University Park and read about this, it may not appear beneficial to the City of Dallas, but this really has tremendous upside for the city and for our taxpayers,” Willis said in a June 25 meeting of the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee. “It wouldn’t have made it this far if I didn’t think so.”

Why Give Dallas Land to University Park? 

In a June 17 memorandum to the Quality of Life Committee, Interim Assistant City Manager Robin Bentley outlined the request.

The Highland Park Independent School District submitted an application for a boundary adjustment from the City of Dallas to join University Park in conjunction with the adjacent Northway Christian Church in June 2023, Bentley wrote in the memo. An original application submitted in July 2022 notes that the purpose of the request is to provide continuity of services between the City of University Park and HPISD schools. About 80 percent of students at Boone Elementary are University Park residents.

The area around the school and the church is mostly zoned for single-family residential use, said Assistant Planning Director Andrea Gilles. The public institutions in the area are non-taxable.

“Originally when the application came in, it was just for Boone Elementary, but per state law, we have to make sure the property in question is contiguous with the requesting body, University Park,” Gilles said. “The discussion had to go back to the church, to make that area whole and contiguous with University Park.”

Boundary Adjustment Is a ‘A Bad Precedent’

Committee members weren’t asked to make a decision on the boundary adjustment but rather to determine whether they wanted the full Dallas City Council to consider asking the city managers of University Park and Dallas to proceed with negotiations.

Council members Willis and Adam Bazaluda, among others, supported moving forward with discussions. Councilman Paul Ridley was concerned about the wording of the motion to initiate negotiations without first evaluating the merits of the deal. Staff confirmed that the committee was not voting to initiate negotiations but rather moving the item forward to the full council.

“I see very little advantage to Dallas in doing this,” Ridley said. “To the extent that we want to accommodate the wishes of our neighbor, I think we ought to consider an [interlocal agreement] or [memorandum of understanding] without giving up permanently part of Dallas. I think it’s a bad precedent.”

Political Wrangling

The day after the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee meeting, Bazaldua was removed as chair of the panel and replaced by Ridley, per a memorandum from Mayor Eric Johnson. The decision reportedly was unrelated to the University Park discussion but rather a frustration over Bazaldua’s successful effort to defer a discussion about banning horse-drawn carriages away from the full council and back to the Quality of Life Committee.

Regardless of the reason, it wasn’t well-received.

Bazaldua responded on X (formerly Twitter) by saying, “Our weak mayor is also a petty one.”

“Today @Johnson4Dallas removed me as Quality of Life Chair, as he has done to several other colleagues when he is throwing a tantrum,” Bazaldua wrote. “He believes in bully tactics because he doesn’t know what real leadership is, just like the president he supports or the failing party he recently joined. Make no mistake, I don’t need a chairmanship or to kiss anybody’s ring to continue the work for District 7 and our city, because, unlike our mayor, I can count to eight votes.”

Bazaldua was recently elected by his peers to serve as deputy mayor pro tem.

Potential Single-Family Residential Development 

The area under consideration for a boundary adjustment is south of Northwest Highway and bounded by Durham Street to the east, Wentwood Drive to the south, and Airline Road to the west.

The Dallas Budget Department estimates that if the acreage with single-family residential zoning remains intact, the potential exists for future redevelopment of more than 300 single-family lots. The total revenue foregone if the area is redeveloped with taxable single-family uses is an average of $2.9 million annually, according to the interim assistant city manager’s memo.

Conversations have occurred about future revenue sharing if the properties are redeveloped for another use, the city planner Gilles confirmed.

“We’ve been told very firmly that is not the case, but none of us can see the future,” she said.

Willis pointed out, however, that while the church and school are not adding to the tax base, the City of Dallas is responsible for stormwater and streets in that area.

“In this scenario, the properties would not be taxable for the time being, but this scenario is different because we’d take expense for those things like stormwater, streets, alleys, et cetera, off the taxpayer and another entity would pick up that tab,” Willis said. “One of the big sticking points, why this has taken almost two years, is I was concerned that if this would ever revert to a taxable use, that would not make us happy if we didn’t have a way to receive any tax revenue for it. A revenue-sharing agreement could be made. UP is highly motivated.”