SHIFT Magazine: A Parking Holy War

October 5, 2010 by · Comments Off 

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By Chris Dell
cdell@smu.edu

Highland Park Presbyterian Church is trying to move “forward by faith” with its latest capital campaign, but there are some pesky neighbors who are doing their part to push the church’s project backward. Since the church announced plans to demolish or relocate three homes it currently owns and construct a new parking lot as part of the initiative, other residents who live in the quiet surrounding neighborhood have been protesting the project to the church, city hall and in the local media. HPPC may need not only faith, but also a good lawyer, if it hopes to move on with its parking project.

The controversy began in spring 2009, when HPPC announced plans for a host of upgrades to the church, including sanctuary and organ renovations, new signs, a kitchen, a new welcome center and a play area for kids, among others. However, it was the $1.5 million parking plaza that got the attention of the church’s neighbors. They argued the parking lot was a frivolous expenditure that would disturb the peaceful neighborhood and slash property values. In another part of Dallas, HPPC might have been able to begin construction without a fight, but not in the wealthy University Park neighborhood just east of Preston Road and about a half mile south of the SMU campus. (Despite its name, the church actually is in University Park.) HPPC’s neighbors will defend property value and neighborhood aesthetics as a mother bird would her nest.

“People are really up in arms about it,” said Sarah Chason, who lives about a quarter-mile west of the church. “These are money people, and they’re willing to fight.”

Chason says she opposes the new lot. She has lived in her current home for the last 18 years, and she said she has never noticed a parking problem at the 4,600-member church.

“Every Sunday, there’s a free spot in front of my house,” she says.

HPPC, in the meantime, sees the new parking plaza as a necessity. The new lot will fit 145 cars — not exactly enough for the church’s entire congregation. It will be a single-level lot that will be enclosed by walls on its north and south sides. Three houses that the church currently owns would be either demolished or moved to make way for the lot. Seven other houses in the block would remain standing, but each would back up to the parking plaza, which will be squeezed between the houses on University Drive to the north and McFarlin Boulevard to the south.

In addition to allowing senior citizens to park closer to the church, HPPC argues the new lot “will serve to beckon those who are broken and weary to seek comfort in the arms of the church,” according to a letter sent to the congregation by Senior Pastor Ron W. Scates and Clerk of Session Ben Brown. “We will be a more accessible and welcoming church as a result of this parking plaza.”

The church did not return a message seeking comment on the issue.

As for the fate of HPPC’s proposed parking lot, it looks as if it will be a while before anyone knows. On Sept. 14, the church was granted a motion to delay its proposal to the University Park Planning and Zoning Commission until October, so that it could “work with our design team, contractors and representatives from city and neighborhood groups to develop our plans as requested by the Planning and Zoning Commission last month,” according to a post on its Web site.

If the plan ultimately is passed by the commission, the road may not end there. Arthur McLean, who lives just a stone’s throw from the church, believes the neighborhood may pool the money to take HPPC to court.

“They will go as far as they can to make sure it doesn’t happen.”

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