Coppell Chronicle Vol. 2, No. 42
Santa Coming to Havencrest Yet Again • Community’s Input on Vacancy Unveiled • New Memorials Policy Put Into Practice • Storage Units OK'd With Promise of Store
On Saturday afternoon, one of my teenagers asked me to drive through the construction zone on South Belt Line Road “just to see what it’s like.” I agreed, and almost immediately regretted doing so, but it wasn’t a fruitless endeavor. Before I made a right on Wrangler out of frustration, my son noticed that the City of Coppell’s logo has been engraved on the pillars that will support DART’s Silver Line tracks.
When I complimented him on his eagle eye, my son saw something else: an opportunity. He attempted to negotiate a percentage of the proceeds from any new subscriptions stemming from this week’s edition. Nice try, pal.
Speaking of kids, if you read the Coppell Chronicle to your young children — unlikely, but possible — you may want to skip this week’s first article.
Santa Coming to Havencrest Yet Again
You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not pout. I’m telling you why: Santa Claus is coming to town.
Those lyrics have been accurate for generations of Coppell kids thanks to Danny Vrla. This week, for the 35th consecutive year, he will don the familiar red suit and welcome children of all ages to visit with Santa in front of his house at 603 Havencrest Lane. The festivities will begin at 6:30 p.m. on Friday.
The tradition started in 1988, when Vrla’s son was a kindergartner at nearby Austin Elementary School. Vrla thought a hometown visit with Santa Claus would be a fun activity for his son and his classmates.
When we spoke on the phone last week, I pointed out that many kindergartners still believe in Santa. So how did Vrla explain his dual identity to his young son?
“We always told him I was just one of Santa’s helpers,” he said. “I was just helping spread Santa’s joy and love in Coppell.”
Over the years, Vrla has spread Santa’s joy and love to a wide range of visitors, from as young as one week to as old as 94 years. Vrla himself is 68, which means he’s staged this Christmas effort for half of his life.
“Santa’s age is unlimited,” he said with a chuckle.
He typically interacts with between 90 and 100 people each evening, but the number of visits can spike toward 150 as Christmas gets closer. He said his personal record for one night was 232. He knows the exact number because he gives a candy cane to each visitor, so checking his post-session inventory provides a tally of the evening’s activities.
“He really does embody the season,” said a former neighbor, Tess Nordick. “He’s practiced answers to all of the ‘big questions’ kids have about Santa and the North Pole, and I’m sure extended the believing years for many through careful answers and the occasional planned appearance.”
Regarding those occasional planned appearances: With a particular young neighbor in mind, Vrla once recruited his brother-in-law to wear the red suit so this doubtful child could see Vrla and Santa Claus in the same place at the same time.
“I get the ‘Is he the real Santa?’ question, and I always say he’s a real Santa helper,” said McKee Smith, who has brought his children, ages 8 and 6, to visit Santa on Havencrest since 2019. “One year, I was astonished he was out in a drizzling rain! We took pictures on the porch instead of in the sleigh.”
When Vrla was working for Lockheed Martin in Fort Worth, he had to rush home to don his costume and be in the sleigh by 6:30. But his schedule loosened up after he retired in 2016. These days, Vrla’s non-Santa hours are consumed by golf. “I always try to play on days that end in Y,” he said.
Santa’s visits on Havencrest end on Dec. 23 each year. Between you and me, that schedule was established because Christmas Eve is Vrla’s son’s birthday. But Vrla has another explanation for young believers: “Santa’s got to be at the North Pole to start loading up the sleigh.”
Community’s Input on Vacancy Unveiled
On Oct. 19, two days after Tracy Fisher resigned from the Coppell ISD Board of Trustees, Board President David Caviness solicited the community’s input regarding “the desired characteristics of a potential board member in consideration of possible action for appointment to the vacant Place 7 Trustee position.” Anyone with opinions was invited to share them via email between Oct. 20 and Oct. 23.
On Nov. 7, the five trustees who were present unanimously voted to appoint Jobby Mathew as Fisher’s replacement. The trustee who missed that vote, Neena Biswas, was undoubtedly against it. She has called Mathew’s appointment a “sham” and said the community wanted the Place 7 seat to remain vacant until the next election in May. In response, Trustee Manish Sethi said the community’s input was “all over the place.”
In an attempt to clear things up, Ashley Wallace filed a public information request for the emails the district received. Wallace — who was among the 13 people besides Mathew who applied to fill the Place 7 vacancy — was kind enough to share those emails with me and, by extension, you.
In the file Wallace shared, the emails were preceded by a summary from Chief Communications Officer Angela Brown that says the district received 29 emails. However, I counted them twice and came up with 28, and two of those were the exact same message sent at different times by the same person, so let’s call it 27. Here’s how I broke them down:
Only three of the 27 emails said the Place 7 seat should have been left vacant until the May election, period.
Five emails said the trustees should have left the seat vacant OR appointed a former trustee to fill it until the May election. Two of those five emails were identical messages from a husband and wife who specifically mentioned former trustees Susie Kemp and “Mike Apple,” which I assume was supposed to be a reference to David Apple.
Four emails said a former trustee should have been appointed to temporarily fill the vacancy, and three of those four mentioned Susie Kemp.
Five emails explicitly said a replacement should be appointed but did not mention any former trustees. One of them mentioned former candidate Carol Lacey McGuire, and another cited Kellie Fishpaw and Chris Shortino as ideal replacements. I’ll note that those three people were not among the 14 individuals who applied to fill the seat.
Six emails implicitly (in my opinion) said a replacement should be appointed before the May election. Here’s one example: “For a potential board member, please only consider candidates who are against banning books, respect educators, and do not think parents should control education and the school district.” Here’s another: “For the proposed vacancy we need a person with younger kids in the school district.”
The remaining four emails offered no opinion on how the board should proceed but did list the qualities of an ideal trustee. However, two of those emails were from Mathew and his wife. I would think most trustees could assume how the Mathews felt about whether or not the seat should be filled.
Draw from my analysis what you will (or perform your own analysis), but I’ll point out that Caviness never said the board would be bound by the community’s input. We elect trustees to make decisions, and the five trustees who were present for the Nov. 7 vote decided to appoint Mathew. As Trustee Leigh Walker pointed out that day, the board has some big decisions to make regarding a potential bond package before May, and having an even number of trustees voting on such decisions would not be ideal.
We’ll hear more about that topic during tomorrow’s board meeting, when the trustees are supposed to receive an update on the Bond Steering Committee’s work. I have a strong suspicion we’ll also hear more about Mathew’s appointment during tomorrow’s meeting.
New Memorials Policy Put Into Practice
A few months ago, the Coppell City Council approved a policy that puts decisions regarding public memorials in the lap of the Parks and Recreation Board. (See “City Adopts Policy for Memorials.”) Last week, the board considered its first proposal under this new policy.
The board unanimously approved a proposal to place a stone bench in the Coppell Nature Park to memorialize Kirsten Chapman, a Coppell High School graduate who taught at Valley Ranch Elementary School and Coppell Middle School West. She died last year at the age of 46.
The bench was proposed by the Friends of Coppell Nature Park. Chapman’s father, David Goodner, is a former president of the organization.
“A stone bench is requested because Dr. Goodner is a geologist and taught children about the geology of the park,” according to the Friends’ application, which indicates the bench will be placed on the park’s Hansen Trail, overlooking the Cottonwood Branch. “He has requested the location of the bench because his grandson found a bison tooth in the stream.”
This was sort of a “soft opening” for the memorials policy, which says the approval of park benches is up to the Parks and Recreation Director. This one rose to the board’s level only because of the unusual materials, relative to most benches in Coppell’s parks. Here’s what the bench will look like:
Storage Units OK’d With Promise of Store
Despite plenty of opposition, a plan to transform a vacant Fry’s building into a storage facility has been approved. The Irving City Council was swayed by the prospect of high-end retail on the same property along Interstate 635.
On Monday evening, the Irving Planning and Zoning Commission voted 7-1 against the proposal. They liked it even less than a plan they considered last summer to build 200 townhomes on the property. (See “Plan for Fry’s Site Gets Short-Circuited.”)
“That is a commercial corridor that the city has designed and is trying to protect for that purpose,” Chair Mark Cronenwett said Monday. “So I don’t think it’s an appropriate use to have storage facilities through there.”
Three days later, the City Council overruled the commission. In cities with geographic council districts, officials typically defer to the person elected to represent the area in question. In this case, that’s Mayor Pro Tem Al Zapanta, who heartily endorsed the proposal.
“I just want my colleagues to understand that this is a typical myopic decision by the Planning and Zoning Commission,” Zapanta said during the council’s work session on Thursday. “When you look at what the vote was, there’s only one person that knew what she was looking at. And more importantly, if you look at what’s there, there’s a real opportunity to bring in a major retail operation.”
Brad LaMorgese, one of the City Council’s two at-large members, lives just down the road from Zapanta in Hackberry Creek. He asked his neighbor, “You really think storage is a good idea for that north piece?”
Zapanta said the storage facility is just one piece of the overall package; the 116,000-square-foot retail building that will be built on the south side is the more important part. While acknowledging that they are subject to non-disclosure agreements, Zapanta prodded the developers to reveal what they could during the council’s formal meeting on Thursday evening.
Charles Tourtellotte, president and CEO of Los Angeles-based LaTerra Development: “I’d love nothing more than to tell you what folks we’re talking to, but I think it will be a tenant that you’d be proud of.”
Michael Zizik, one of the project’s architects: “It’s designed to be a very high-quality, large tenant.”
Chris Tourtellotte, managing director of LaTerra Development: “Once the neighborhood learns of the tenant that we’re talking to, I think you’re going to say, ‘Wow! My home value just went up.’ I think you’re going to be very, very pleased.”
Two Coppell ISD neighborhoods, Emerald Park and Emerald Valley, sit across Market Place Boulevard from the abandoned Fry’s building. Their homeowners associations’ presidents both expressed concerns on Thursday evening about the potential for crime. To allay those concerns, the developers said the storage facility will be staffed during its operating hours. Although those operating hours will not be 24-7, access will be controlled by fobs, and the property will be blanketed by dozens of cameras.
“There’s going to be no crime. There’s going to be no riff-raff,” Chris Tourtellotte said. “This is going to be a safe, secure facility.”
The plans call for the Fry’s building to be augmented by outdoor storage for cars, trucks, boats, and recreational vehicles, and the homeowners also said they weren’t happy about having to look at all that. But smaller storage facilities will be erected on the property’s perimeter, and Bruce Jordan — a California architect who specializes in storage facilities — said those new buildings will be tall enough to obscure all the stored vehicles.
Zapanta made the motion to approve the proposal, which passed 8-1. Kyle Taylor, who represents a district straddling State Highway 183, was the lone dissenter.
So, does anybody want to guess the name of this supposedly major, high-quality, neighborhood-pleasing retail tenant?
• I was planning to travel to Austin next month so I could cover the City of Coppell’s lawsuit against Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. When I double-checked whether the trial was still scheduled to begin in January, I found out the court proceedings have been delayed until May.
• The Coppell ISD Education Foundation announced last week that it had distributed more than $90,000 to 30-plus teachers throughout the district, funding grant requests covering a range of topics, including outdoor learning opportunities, technology upgrades, and an expanded library of music for the Coppell High School band.
• Firefighters from the Coppell Fire Department raised $21,000 for the Muscular Dystrophy Association during the organization’s annual Fill the Boot campaign.
• The Coppell Community Gardens are trying to raise $5,000 by Thursday via SeedMoney, a nonprofit that hosts annual crowdfunding challenges for community and school gardens. If you can’t spare any cash, the gardens will also accept your raked leaves for composting purposes.
• Carrollton-Farmers Branch ISD, which includes portions of Coppell and Irving, is asking stakeholders to participate in a survey regarding the district’s next superintendent.
EcoExplorer — Ugly Christmas Sweaters: Learn about the mammals within the Coppell Nature Park via their “ugly sweaters,” aka their pelts. This event will happen between 9 a.m. and noon on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays through Dec. 22.
Holiday Family Fun Night: All ages are welcome to attend a reading of The Polar Express at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Cozby Library and Community Commons. Festive pajamas are encouraged at this event, which will feature cookies, cocoa, and crafts.
Teen Craft: Ugly Holiday Sweater: Teens can drop by the Cozby Library and Community Commons between 4 and 6 p.m. on Wednesday, when paint, buttons, glitter, and other supplies will be provided to make your own ugly holiday sweater. Note: This is a BYOS (bring your own sweater) event.
A Merry Cirque: The Lone Star Circus will presents five shows at the Coppell Arts Center between Thursday and Dec. 18.
A Little House Christmas: Theatre Coppell will stage three more performances of a Christmas story based on Laura Ingalls Wilder’s series of Little House on the Prairie books: 8 p.m. on Friday, 8 p.m. on Saturday, and 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 18, all at the Coppell Arts Center.
Dallas Comic Show: Normally, I wouldn’t plug an event at Music City Mall in Lewisville. But normally, you wouldn’t expect to find Tom Arnold and Chuck Norris at that mall. They’re scheduled to be there between 11 a.m. and 6 p.m. on Saturday and between noon and 5 p.m. on Dec. 18.
Wild By Nature — Winter Birds: Families are invited to swoop into the Biodiversity Education Center at 1 p.m. on Dec. 21 to learn how birds survive during winter. Participants will be able to make a bird feeder to take home.