Developer and Neighbors Meet to Discuss Trees, but Their Fate is Still Unclear
Published July 23, 2018 By WILL MADDOX
Five neighbors met with over a dozen representatives from Edens and their subcontractors on Wednesday to discuss the future of several original cedar elm trees in Casa Linda Plaza that are scheduled to be removed as the developer remakes the shopping center. Both sides presented their arguments in the meeting last week, but neighborhood representatives are not aware of any changes to the plan.
As construction crews began to rip out shrubbery and crepe myrtles last week, neighbors spread the word, requiring a media appearance from Mark Clayton and a petition that now has over 6,000 signatures protesting the removal of the trees.
Neighbors are thankful that Edens agreed to meet with them, and they say the company’s staff earnestly listened to their thoughts and concerns even though they have every right to take down the trees. Edens has not yet responded to questions about the meeting or if any decisions have been made, but the story will be updated when they do.
At the meeting, neighborhood leaders discussed their reasons for wanting the keep the trees. The reasons ranged from the lack of outreach before the project to history and design.
Taylor Slovak works in outdoor design and has been the de facto spokesperson for those who want to protect the trees. She started an organization called “The Voice of East Dallas” and a change.org petition to save the trees. Slovak remembers the last time major changes were made to the shopping center, and says the outreach to and collaboration with the community this time around us not up to par. In 2007, Amreit owned the center and sent a letter to the community asking for feedback on the design, including a survey neighbors could take to give their two cents. This year, most neighbors didn’t know about the plan until shrubs started being removed. “We’ve heard so much about their love for passionate communities and their desire to create a space we want to spend more time in… this should be a no brainer. Preserve these historic trees,” Slovak wrote via email.
Another prong of the neighbors’ case was the historical nature of the shopping center and the fact that the trees are original to the complex. Neighbor Krista de la Harpe is the District 9 representative to the Dallas Landmark Commission and was part of the meeting with Edens. She says that Casa Linda is the oldest shopping center in Dallas, and that the Spanish revival style is the third oldest in the country with its specific design. It is also on Preservation Dallas’ list of Dallas’ most endangered buildings. De la Harpe would like to see it become a national registered landmark, but removing the trees would make that designation more difficult. De la Harpe also consulted Steve Houser of Arborilogical Services to make sure the trees were healthy enough to save.
Little Forest Hills Neighborhood Association co-president Patrick Blaydes was also in attendance at the meeting, and he leaned on his background as an urban planner to question whether it was necessary to remove the trees. Neighbors developed an alternative plan for the parking that expands the sidewalks but also preserves the historic trees. He recognizes that Edens is in a difficult situation, and is thankful Edens agreed to meet when they didn’t have to. He suggested that the remodel could activate the promenade where the trees stand now and make it a place people want to congregate rather than remove it. Even if people don’t sit under them, the trees have inherent value as they are, he says. Blaydes shares Edens’ desire for the center to be more pedestrian friendly, but still has questions about the design. "If it is easy to drive in and out of, it is for those driving through the community," he says. "If it is made people to linger, it is for the community."
Neighbors aren’t sure if there will be another meeting or if they made any progress, but they are thankful for the opportunity to have a dialogue with a corporation that didn’t have to do so. But they haven’t given up. “We don’t see why we have to sacrifice the existing history and character,” Slovak says. “Our favorite thing about this area is the trees.”
The East Dallas Tree Coalition is a Facebook group started by Slovak to build awareness about the tree developments.