Dallas Real Estate Bottom Line: Is It Just A Big Pain-in-The-You-Know-What To Live Near a Mega Church? Linda Koop’s Tree Coup

Published October 18, 2011 by Candy Evans

So, the Hillcrest Road campus of Prestonwood Baptist Church, which used to be that 16 acre Hillcrest Church, wants to chop down seven trees and build a big huge 40 foot tall cross at the northeast corner of Hillcrest and Churchill Way. Well, now they are only going to remove five. Dallas City Councilmember Linda Koop, who must cringe whenever she hears the word “Hillcrest”,  along with Plan Commissioner Bruce Bernbaum, met with church officials and have saved two of the seven trees from being demolished for the giant, lighted cross. 

I ask you: is it worth living near a church? I used to think it would be rather nice. First Hillcrest Church was such a royal pain to the homeowners up there. Remember when Hillcrest applied for a specific-use permit to house Coram Deo Academy? Jeeze Louise, neighbors lined up to reiterate their HISTORIC distrust of the church and concerns over traffic. I recall the days when there were signs lining Churchill Way from Preston to Hillcrest, neighbors furious at the church for buying and demolishing homes to make additional expansion space and parking. Then they wanted a whole dang school! Church supporters spoke about the positive impact it would have, both on students and Dallas as a whole, and the importance of schools in civic life. Then Hiram Sasser, an attorney with the conservative, pro-religious freedom Liberty Institute challenged the council’s right to do anything but approve the specific-use permit, citing the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act. As I recall, there was even talk of a federal lawsuit. The neighborhood went nuts.

Hillcrest got out of Dodge by selling to Prestonwood Baptist, doing what one neighbor tells me was flicking a final finger to the Hillcrest Forest Neighborhood Association.

Well, the Hillcrest Forest Neighborhood Association think the giant cross is larger than it needs to be, but have not formally objected to it.

“We understand that in a neighborhood as large as ours, there will always be differing opinions on various issues, and we respect their concerns,” wrote Hillcrest Forest Neighborhood Association President Bruce Wilke in an email.  

Me, I think I’d just not ever buy a house within 300 feet of a mega church. Life is too short. Baby Boomers are embracing churches more as we circle the drain, and the bigger they get, the more scandalous. Recall Grapevine Churches’ pastor Ed Young urging married couples to have more sex a few years ago? These mega-churches may be getting better and better at marketing, and rich enough to buy private jets, but do they make good neighbors?

Linda Koops “coup”:

Recently a case went to Plan Commission, which involved the Prestonwood Baptist Church on Hillcrest between Forest and Churchill Way. The case was to document a change on the original Plan Development District Document for the property. The Church was adding a 40-foot cross (the vertical element is 16 inches wide by 16 inches in depth) near the front facade of the main building and relocating two signage monuments. I have checked with the City Attorney and under the City’s regulations and codes, the church had the legal right and was in full compliance with “height restrictions” and all the requirements of the “minor amendment” process to put up the cross; relocate the two signage monuments; and mitigate for tree removal. Appropriate “documentation” of the changes on the Plan Development Document was the only item the city could legally consider when the case came before Plan Commission. This type of request is a “minor amendment” and does not go to City Council.

In meeting all the requirements of the city’s regulations and codes for the “minor amendment”, the Plan Commission had to affirm its administrative duty and place the schematics for the cross on the Plan Development District Document as required by city code. Neighbors came to the hearing and voiced their concerns about to the cross, its illumination and the removal of seven trees. I very much appreciate the neighbors taking time out of their busy schedules to attend the Plan Commission meeting and voice their concerns. Even though the Plan Commission carried out its legal duty the neighbors felt more could have been done to encourage the Church to compromise in a good faith effort on the trees and the illumination hours. It was in that spirit that Plan Commissioner Bruce Bernbaum and I met with the pastor of the church this week.

As a result of our meeting the Church has agreed to remove only five of the original seven trees slated for removal. Of those five, two will be relocated behind the cross. There is some question as to the health of these two trees. I will ask the City Arborist to verify if the two trees can survive being relocated. If they can not, they will be replaced with trees of the same “caliper inch” or greater. The Church will (per city code) not allow ”spill-over light” from the illumination of the cross. In addition it will cease lighting the cross at 10:00pm. I have also asked the church for a schedule for the lighting of the parking lot. They have complied and the letter is attached.

Again, I want to thank all of those who attended the Plan Commission meeting on behalf of the neighborhood or wrote me in favor or opposed to the application. Please know that I appreciate your input. Be assured that I will always continue to support the neighborhood.

Best Regards,

Linda Koop

Dallas City Councilmember, District 11

— Daily Local Real Estate Dish By Dallas Real Estate Insider — Candy Evans at CandysDirt.com