Prior to last April’s city council elections, a certain campaign flyer made its way into neighborhood association meetings and into mailboxes in the White Rock Lake area. A cartoon on the page-depicting massive traffic jams-drew attention to an already passionate debate between the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society (DABS) and an informal coalition of homeowners and homeowners groups.
Many residents of the White Rock area fear that what was once a free public park-the DeGolyer Estate-is destined to become an expensive tourist attraction of amphitheaters, restaurants, gift shops, boutiques, and maintenance buildings, with East Lawther Drive being closed to public entry.
The forty-four-acre DeGolyer Estate, or two-thirds of the property in question. belongs to the city of Dallas. The adjoining Camp Estate-twenty-two acres-belongs to the Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society. The city provides 10 percent of the funds for the property’s upkeep, and DABS manages both properties for the Dallas Park Department. Easy so far, but there’s also the problem of ownership. DABS is subject to a written agreement that states: "The Society agrees to retain title on the grounds and buildings on the Camp property, including future additions, until such time as financial circumstances permit and warrant the transfer of title to the city, as determined by the Society." Furthermore, "It shall be the goal of both parties that eventual ownership of the Camp property shall be vested in the city of Dallas in the future.’1 So here we have a park property, managed by a nonprofit but private corporation, sitting in the middle of a residential area, and under the auspices of the Park Board. Or is it the city council?
The original idea for the restaurants and other "improvements" cited in the flyer for at least some of them) came from the Master Plan for the park submitted in 1983 by the Seattle firm of Jones & Jones. Architects & Landscape Architects. The Dallas Park and Recreation Board approved the plan in 1984, but so far, DABS has not persuaded opponents that the botanical gardens as planned will serve "beauty, education, research, public service/culture, and conservation," as promised in the plan.
Says Michael Jung, president of the Dallas Homeowners League: "1 don’t think many object to having a botanical garden on the Camp-DeGolyer site. But what we do want to know is what kind of botanical garden we are going to have and how decisions about it are going to be made."
Linda Smith, landscape architect and vice-president of the arboretum, counters by pointing out that a master plan is a vision of possibilities rather than a final blueprint. Says Smith: "The parts of that plan that actually materialize will be the products of revision and available resources."