Church’s Plans For Playground On Hold Until UP Council Acts

Children line up after recess at St. Christopher's, where administrators would like to update the playground equipment to better suit a younger student body. (Staff photo: Chris McGathey)
Children line up after recess at St. Christopher’s, where administrators would like to update the playground equipment to better suit a younger student body. (Staff photo: Chris McGathey)

Once upon a time, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church housed an elementary school, so it had playground equipment that was age-appropriate.

Today, the Montessori campus caters to preschoolers and kindergartners, so the playtime needs have changed. The school’s office manager, Julie Aidy, began researching playground designs roughly eight years ago.

“It’s really important to me to make this a natural space,” Aidy said of the plans that include a crawl tube decorated like a log as well as slides in neutral — as opposed to primary — colors.

The church sits at the southwest corner of Lovers Lane and North Central Expressway, right on the edge of University Park. That city’s Planning and Zoning Commission has recommended approval of the school’s plans to level a courtyard, expand the playground, and build a wooden fence that would abut the masonry wall along the frontage road.

But those plans came to a screeching halt before the City Council this month.

“The church won’t let us beautify the intersection at Lovers Lane, but we’re letting them build this 8-foot cedar fence?” Councilman Bob Clark asked during the work session before the July 16 meeting.

About a year and a half ago, University Park officials proposed an “intersection beautification” project that would have included part of the church’s property, near the entrance. The church denied the request, and City Council members haven’t forgotten.

“We have a little bit of concern when we can’t work together,” Mayor Dick Davis said during the July 16 meeting.

The school has about 100 students, mainly from Park Cities and Preston Hollow families, Aidy said. In conjunction with the church, those families feel the issue is worth fighting for; the school board hopes to meet with the city in order to move forward.

“We don’t want this to be an adversarial relationship,” Aidy said. “We want to work with the city to have it approved.”

The issue isn’t off the table entirely — the council did not vote to deny the church’s plans; they simply took no action. Robbie Corder, University Park’s community development director, estimates the item will be back on the agenda in mid-September.

39 thoughts on “Church’s Plans For Playground On Hold Until UP Council Acts

  • July 31, 2013 at 4:01 pm
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    Is that dickish or what? “The Episcopal Diocese wouldn’t grant us an easement to take over church property for our purposes, so we’re not going to let that church protect a playground.” Way to show who’s the boss, Bob Clark!

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  • July 31, 2013 at 4:11 pm
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    Did you happen to ask why they refused to let the city “beautify” the intersection?

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  • August 1, 2013 at 8:54 am
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    Both of my children have attended St. Christopher’s, and I could not be happier with the quality of care and education that they received. The proposed toddler retreat would only add to the already outstanding educational environment, and I hope that the city council can promptly move past this apparent pettiness to approve its installation.

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  • August 1, 2013 at 11:45 am
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    What part of the St. Christopher’s property would have been taken over or affected by the “intersection beautification”?

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  • August 1, 2013 at 11:54 am
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    @ Uppercase Matt,

    I could argue that both sides are being “dickish”.To Avid Readers point, did they ever explain why the wouldn’t work with UP to beautify teh intersection? At face value, it seems pretty selfish of the school, if you ask me.

    And where does it say that they are trying to “protect the playground?” And an 8 year study on playground designs?

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  • August 1, 2013 at 3:24 pm
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    @Avid Reader and @XT – No further information was released on the church’s refusal to allow the “beautification” plans, which included the entrance walkway, to the best of my knowledge.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 9:48 am
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    @Sarah Bennett, Thanks for the follow up.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 12:13 pm
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    There is one thing that some people may not be aware of here. There are two separate entities involved. The church and the school. While the school is on the church’s property, they are a separate entity and are being punished by the city council simply because of the proximity to the church. That in my book as one reader mentioned is “dickish”. Also we are talking about protecting children here that is why the fence needs to be built. otherwise they could just wander into traffic, but it sounds like the city council could care less about children’s safety.

    Another point to make here is that what is not mentioned in the article is what the so called “beautification” was going to entail, what were the plans going to look like? Let just pose this hypothetical situation. Say a city said we would like to use some of your property to beautify the city and the beautification involved putting a 12 foot high wall in front of your property so no one could see it and your view would be completely blocked by this 12 foot wall. Further more what if your property depended at least in part on people being able to see your property, I am sure you would not be happy about that would you? Another hypothetical is that what if this so called “beautification” project’s plans were purposely kept from you, but they still wanted your OK to follow through with it, would you say yes? By the way, there is some fact in these hypothetical situations above.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 3:14 pm
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    Hey now. I can believe there’s some silly political quid pro quo going on here, but I can’t imagine the UP City Council is per se callous to the safety of children. Come on.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 3:50 pm
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    Still would like to hear the non-hypothetical reason they refused to let the city perform their “beautification”.

    @NT, In the above blog post it states that the wooden fence would abut the masonry wall so it seems that there is already a wall to keep kids from wandering into the street right?

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  • August 2, 2013 at 4:47 pm
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    “The city council could care less about the safety of children”. Are you serious? The school’s play area is bordered by the back of the school, the dead end of a quiet residential street, a public park and a huge sound wall. Plus it’s already fenced in. Nobody is going to be letting kids run out into traffic. Oh but I do get a tingle up my leg at the thought of a top secret plan to build a 12 foot wall at the intersection of Lovers and 75! Hopefully it will include turrets with snipers to take out the panhandlers and DART commuters. I’d love to see some German shepherds and we’ll need a guard house to check everyone’s Community League card before they enter. Alas, the entrance feature will likely be very low profile, pedestrian friendly with flowers and such, just like it is at Hillcrest and NW Highway. Sigh…

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  • August 2, 2013 at 7:14 pm
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    @NT, Google Earth shows there is already a stone wall around the playground so even without the proposed wooden fence there is no way a child could wander into traffic. Can toss out the “protecting kids” argument now.

    That said, I agree this is “dickish” on the council’s part; prove the other side isn’t just as “dickish” by laying out exactly what the “beautification” would have entailed and specifically why they refused.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 7:35 pm
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    To those asking about the “beautification” project:

    The project clearly required some sort of temporary or permanent easement or an outright condemnation that would encroach on church property. Otherwise, the city wouldn’t have needed cooperation of any kind from the church.

    And if the city can’t “beautify” the intersection without seizing church property, as Councilman Bob Clark implies, then maybe they need better plans.

    I laughed at this comment from Dick Davis: “We have a little bit of concern when we can’t work together”.

    Remember when the mayor donated money to the no beer sales campaign and financed the distribution of laughably misleading pamphlets opposing the ballot initiative? And remember when he was caught in an apparent lie to this newspaper? (Be sure to read the comments in that link). To be fair, maybe our esteemed mayor has learned his lesson about “working together” since then.

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  • August 2, 2013 at 9:06 pm
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    It might be a good idea for everyone Involved to drive by and get a look at what is being discussed. There is a low, half-wall that already exists but with a 6 – 8 foot gap in between. It’s a v-shaped courtyard that opens up onto the I-75 access road. So, without a tall fence, the space is really not usable by anyone other than adults who enjoy the meditative sounds of freeway noise
    (please note the sarcasm). Also, It’s not just about the playground. Enclosing this courtyard will also cut down on the number of homeless persons that kid’s teachers have to chase off before the students start to arrive. I have no idea about the history surrounding the “beautifaction” of the Lovers intersection but, as a parent whose kid will use the playground that is supposed to be built there, and a UP homeowner and taxpayer, this entire “conteoversy” strikes me as petty and silly.

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  • August 3, 2013 at 1:27 pm
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    private property is private property

    a government person who has a problem with that need rethink the whole purpose of private property

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  • August 4, 2013 at 3:13 pm
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    Both of my boys attended St. Christopher’s Montessori School. It is a very special place with the highest standards of excellence in care and education. The City should move forward and approve the proposed toddler retreat which would only add to this amazing school and benefit the children.

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  • August 4, 2013 at 9:04 pm
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    I am a UP resident and both my children attended SCMS. The children’s retreat is a wonderful idea. This small school has hosted several fundraisers to make the retreat a reality. The UP council deliberately choosing to not approve the plans appears spiteful.

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  • August 4, 2013 at 9:57 pm
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    If you drive by the property, you can easily see a low brick wall that runs about halfway across a rather unattractive open space. What’s the big deal with fencing it all off to use as a little play area? Not likely it took 8 yrars to design – more likely 8 years of red tape. As for the “beautification”: do you really think the school has any control over alterations to the land the church is perched on? Where did this beautification stuff come from, anyway? I’d like to see, but can’t find any plans, drawings or anything in the city’s public records – and you KNOW they are sticklers for detail! Whatever. Those little kids just want to know when they’ll get to play in their new space.

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  • August 5, 2013 at 8:09 am
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    It might be beneficial for all involved to drive by and actually see the location. It’s a narrow V shaped courtyard that opens up onto the 75 access road. There is a low, brick half wall (may 2.5 feet tall) that partially encloses the area with about a 6 or 8 foot gap in the center. As is, the space is completely unusable except by adults who enjoy the meditative sounds of freeway noise (please note the sarcasm). As a mom whose kid will actually use this playground once it’s done, I do wish the Planning & Zoning Commission would consider the fact that many many UP homeowners have children at St. Christopher’s and we find it frustrating that such a big deal is being made out of a relatively innocuous fence.

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  • August 5, 2013 at 1:49 pm
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    Nobody is talking about seizing any church property. I haven’t seen any plans but logically it would likely be just a narrow easement at the corner to put in something similar to what is at Hillcrest and NWHwy. It’s hardly any skin off the nose for the church at all. Don’t forget, the church and the school both enjoy all our city services without paying a single penny of property tax to help maintain our police, fire, EMS, sanitation etc. They get all that service for free. Now who looks like the real dick here?

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  • August 5, 2013 at 1:54 pm
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    And people please quit dragging your darling little kids into the argument. The kids always get tromped out and paraded around as sad victims by the parents. It’s really so distasteful.

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  • August 5, 2013 at 2:40 pm
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    HP75, I think a large portion of UP east of Hillcrest is in Dallas city limits as well so let’s not start the mob over that point. If the church opted not to concede private property for city purposes, that is their prerogative. At least for now, I think citizens still have that option. If the city is actually playing quid pro quo here, the powers that be SHOULD be ashamed of themselves. As for beautification of that particular intersection, why are we spending tax dollars on something so frivolous anyway? It’s an access point for a major expressway, just how “beautiful” can we make it?

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  • August 5, 2013 at 6:13 pm
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    NFW- Are you confusing HPISD with UP? The City of University Park owns just a few parcels of land inside the City of Dallas such as where our Worcola street service center is east of 75. They also own the corner lot across from the church at Lovers and 75. That lot is in Dallas, the church across the street is in UP. Those entry features are an important part of our city’s landscape that differentiates UP from everyone else. Kind of like that frivolous notion of pay as you go, no public debt that our UP administration has. That church gets free police protection, free fire protection, free EMS, free streets and sewer maintenance. They are the ones who should be ashamed for not cooperating with the city they are obviously benefitting from.

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  • August 5, 2013 at 8:05 pm
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    Can anyone actually define what the Church was refusing other than the obvious basics?

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  • August 5, 2013 at 9:41 pm
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    Why is it so hard to get some facts regarding the beautification of the intersection? Was it an easement, or taking property, how would it have inconvenienced the church, etc.

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  • August 6, 2013 at 7:39 am
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    HP75, don’t think so. I had always understood that sections of HPISD were actually in the Dallas city limits. According to DCAD, the church premises are in Dallas not UP. Given churches are tax exempt (for now), they don’t pay taxes anyway. The argument that they get UP services for free just doesn’t mean a hill of beans either way. However, if they were a taxable entity, they’d be paying the city of Dallas anyway. Seems to me UP was asking for a favor they didn’t get.

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  • August 6, 2013 at 11:11 am
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    NFW, St Christopher’s and everyone else out there: Mea Culpa. The church is in City of Dallas. I was being dickish.

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  • August 6, 2013 at 2:47 pm
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    Councilman Clark would do well to remember that he has an obligation to act in the best interest of his constituents. Whether he likes it or not, no one gives a bony rat’s behind if HIS ego is offended by the church’s failure to agree with the city’s offer to take over a piece of their property. The church may have had good reason to decline, so his reaction does seem childish. As we’ve seen lately, our government seems to play pretty fast and loose with the rights of citizens. The church was under no LEGAL obligation to the city.

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  • August 6, 2013 at 4:08 pm
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    HP75: As distasteful as you may find it, the children ARE the crux of the argument! What the heck does all this frivolous beautification/wall stuff have to do with letting toddlers play safely outside? You know the UP P&D team are tough nuts to crack, but they unanimously recommended the council’s approval, then SMACK! – this wall/beautification comes flying in? Ridiculous!

    Why can’t the monument to University Park’s greatness be built in University Park instead of in Dallas or on private property? Where are the plans for this wall or “beautification” or “wall”, anyway – has ANYBODY seen a scale drawing? If they haven’t seen one either, I bet the church wants a better idea of the plan – would you want a structure that glorifies some other city, while at the same time limiting your parking visibility, closing off sight of your place of worship, and inviting even more homeless people to use your sacred ground as nest, changing area and toilet?

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  • August 7, 2013 at 7:16 am
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    If UP council and P&Z have a say about the school’s fence then that part of the property must be in UP.

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  • August 7, 2013 at 7:58 am
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    @IAmTheMachine, There is currently a stone wall exactly where the fence is proposed; not a safety issue. Clearly the church was aware of whatever the “beautification” plans were when they refused as I seriously doubt that they would have rejected the city’s proposal without seeing the plans because that would be more “dickish” than the council.

    I’m all for the Church building this fence for their playground regardless of whatever plans they rejected from the city. That said, until anyone with actual knowledge of what the city plans can lay out what exactly they refused; both the church and the council are “dickish”.

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  • August 7, 2013 at 9:05 am
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    To clarify any confusion, the existing playground, which is on the south side of the school and fronts out on to Westminster, would not be affected. But that is a playground for the bigger kids, and it doesn’t really have equipment that is appropriate for the toddlers.

    What the School wants to build is a playground that is specifically for the toddlers in the unused courtyard that is enclosed on three sides by the building and open toward the Central frontage road. The courtyard is now somewhat separated by the frontage road by about a four-foot brick wall, but the wall stops a couple of feet from the courtyard and there’s no barrier to prevent a child from walking into traffic (nor is there a barrier to prevent people from walking into the playground). So it does need to be enclosed by a fence of some sort if it’s going to be used as a playground.

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  • August 7, 2013 at 3:48 pm
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    @James Parker, Thank you for the clarification, that makes this a horse of a different color.

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  • August 7, 2013 at 5:37 pm
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    Maybe Bob “Bloody Mary” Clark is Roman Catholic and is still sore about that whole Henry VIII/Church of England schism thing? The Episcopalian establishment hassled Catholics for 300 years in England. It’s payback time, beeotchez!

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  • August 8, 2013 at 4:50 pm
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    Lots of talk of pettiness, and children’s safety, but still no facts on the beautification issue.

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  • August 9, 2013 at 1:57 pm
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    @XT, I’m not sure that there are any facts on the “beautification issue.” I’m not even sure that the “beautification” would be beautiful.

    I’ve searched through the UP website, and though there’s some vague discussion of a wall and a gateway, there aren’t any blueprints, schematics, plans, renderings, or anything else from which one could definitively figure out what they plan to construct.

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  • August 9, 2013 at 3:20 pm
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    @James Parker, Doubt the church was “dickish” enough to reject a vague idea. There are clearly plans that the city has somewhere and the church was made aware of at some point. However, if the church did in fact just reject a vague idea, I have no problem being corrected on the church’s level of “dickishness”. Some of the “facts” XT is most likely looking for (also curious myself) would be specifically what was to be built or landscaped, where, how those items would affect or infringe on the church’s property, and the reasons the church was not on board.

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  • June 18, 2014 at 12:08 pm
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    After more than a year of deliberation, the City Council of University Park voted last night to approve the request from St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church and Montessori School to construct the Toddler’s Retreat play area.

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