The Grapevine Convention Center proved too small for a public hearing on potential bond projects that started off with the fire marshal running more than 100 people out of an overfilled auditorium Monday.
The vast majority of the 480 people who were allowed to remain — and the displaced residents who watched from the hallway — turned out to oppose an $8.1 million project to build a bridge extending Heritage Avenue across Parr Park and Big Bear Creek, saying it would harm the natural beauty and wildlife of the green space and replace it with traffic and noise.
The roughly half-mile bridge is among eight potential projects totaling $44.1 million that could be part of a bond election Nov. 7. The council has until Aug. 21 to call the election.
Opponents were led by a contingent calling themselves the Heritage Bridge Busters, who gathered the signatures of more than 1,200 opponents.
Supporters argued that the city needs the additional north-south arterial the bridge would provide by connecting the two dead ends of Heritage Avenue. They say it would significantly shorten travel time for residents and school buses and response times for emergency services.
The bridge project has been part of the city’s master thoroughfare plan since the 1980s.
“I practically have to travel around the world just to go to the grocery store,” the first speaker, B.J. Wilson, representing 22 nonspeaking supporters of the bridge, told the City Council. “We believe [the bridge] would have little impact on the trail system and virtually no impact on Parr Park.”
But Wilson, among 88 scheduled speakers, was followed by a line of people with a litany of concerns, including loss of nature and the arrival of traffic and increased crime. Some called for a traffic study to help determine the need for the connection.
“When they open up that bridge, traffic is going to be horrendous,” one man said. “It is not going to be good.”
Pippa Robe, who represented 60 nonspeaking opponents — the council granted four minutes of speaking time, instead of two minutes, to those who spoke for others to save time — said her three children love walking and riding the trails and playing in the creek.
“I love the peacefulness of the trail and the ability to escape the noise of modern life,” she said. “If a road is built here, many trees will be lost and the peace and tranquility will be gone.”
Several speakers urged the council to include the bridge project in the bond program to let the voters decide.
“Not allowing us to vote is hijacking the democratic process,” resident Skip Rice told the council.
Some are concerned that putting the controversial bridge proposal on the list could jeopardize the entire bond package, even though officials said voters would decide each project separately in the election.
Although it’s the most expensive component of the package, some officials and residents argue several other components are much more needed.
Two new fire stations and renovations to the animal shelter are on the tentative bond list, along with rebuilding the Grapevine Golf Course clubhouse and several road projects.
Councilman Paul Slechta, in an interview before the meeting, said he was concerned about negativity radiating from the bridge debate.
Slechta said voters might say, “If you put that bridge on there, maybe I don’t want to support anything.”
City officials in charge of those projects set up information booths around the back of the room before the meeting.
Fire officials said they need to replace a pair of 35-year-old fire stations, at a cost of nearly $8 million each. Assistant Fire Chief J.R. Sherwood said that while the Fire Department is not weighing in on the bridge, a study showed that having the bridge could reduce response times from 6 1/2 minutes to 4 minutes for getting at least two emergency vehicles to neighborhoods near the south dead-end of Heritage Avenue.