Southern Dallas leaders Frederick Haynes and Michael Sorrell call out the city for failing to protect this vulnerable neighborhood from environmental racism.
Dallas City Hall’s failure to fix unjust decades-old zoning decisions sends a “y’all come” invitation for the next Shingle Mountain to invade the southeast neighborhood of Floral Farms.
In fact, another interloper already is scoping things out on part of the land where the six-story-high shingle dump previously loomed — a virtual monument to the environmental racism Dallas has long let stand in the southern part of the city.
First reported by D magazine’s Matt Goodman, the latest industrial activity on part of the land previously occupied by Shingle Mountain has created new health concerns and traffic problems.
As recently as Friday, more than a dozen 18-wheeler trailers sat just across the fence from the home of Marsha Jackson, who led the fight to get Shingle Mountain removed. Jackson said a heavy smell of diesel hung in her house and dust from the work site quickly settled into her ventilation system.
The trucks were gone Monday — at least temporarily — their disappearance coinciding with a community meeting to address the latest unwanted industrial neighbor. The “Trees not Trucks at Shingle Mountain” event, streamed live on Facebook, brought residents — and we can only hope, elected officials — up to speed.
The meeting also featured two powerful southern Dallas leaders who made clear that their institutions, Paul Quinn College and Friendship-West Baptist Church, stand with Floral Farms.
“It’s wrong to have to fight so hard not to have a Shingle Mountain in your neighborhood, not to have a diesel-truck parking lot down the street from your home,” college president Michael Sorrell said. “It’s wrong to have zoning that prohibits you from being able to improve your neighborhood.”
Yet here’s the reality: Until the city eliminates the industrial designations it granted decades ago to properties within this residential area, Floral Farms will remain stuck doing battle, lot by lot, with whatever heavy-use operation tries to move in.
The neighbors’ carefully constructed master plan — and even the park that HKS architects are designing for the Shingle Mountain site — are all but worthless until City Hall acts.
Floral Farms, a community of about 150 mostly Latino and Black residents, is a blend of the best and worst of life in southern Dallas. Many of the neighbors first moved here because they preferred a more country lifestyle, a place where they could spread out or pasture their horses. Their homes, many of them small cottages, sit on narrow roads with no curbs or sidewalks.
Life would be great, neighbors agree, if they didn’t have to share their streets with 18-wheelers and look at illegal dumping or industrial messes just across their fences.
The latest industrial scare on the former Shingle Mountain site illustrates what the neighborhood is up against. Evelyn Mayo, a fellow at Paul Quinn’s Urban Research Initiative, and Jennifer Rangel, with the Inclusive Communities Project, explained the sorry state of affairs Monday night.
Shingle Mountain, finally eradicated at the end of February, actually occupied two properties, each owned by a different company and both sued by the city.
In its settlement, CCR Equity Holdings One paid Dallas $1 million to haul off the shingles and take ownership of the land at no cost. Once an environmental impact assessment is finished, the City Council will vote, possibly as early as next month, on CCR’s offer.
Almira Industrial and Trading Corporation owns the portion of the Shingle Mountain site where the shingle grinding occurred. After cleaning up the mess on its property, Almira remains in litigation with Dallas.
Mayo and Rangel told concerned listeners Monday that Almira applied May 13 for a certificate of occupancy for “Machinery, heavy equipment or truck sales and service, Will sort out and separate metals to supply to mills, trading companies and export.”
Almira’s property is zoned “industrial research,” meaning the first requested use would require a specific use permit and potentially a residential adjacency review. Mayo said the second use is not allowed in industrial research zoning.
So far, Almira has not publicly commented on its plans.
The line went dead as soon as I identified myself as a reporter to the woman who answered the phone at Almira’s recycling center in the Dolphin Heights neighborhood. My two callbacks went to a voicemail attached to a different phone number; no one has yet returned that request for comment.
Marsha Jackson is worried sick about what Almira might be planning just on the other side of her property line. Her Southern Sector Rising nonprofit helped organize the Neighbors United coalition of Floral Farm residents, which then created the land-use blueprint to protect their community.
Neighbors and advocates are desperate for Dallas City Hall to take up their overall plan. “We wouldn’t have to drag this out, tract by tract, permit by permit, if there was just a systemic resolution,” Mayo told me.
Instead, they have run smack into changes in how the city prioritizes zoning cases and under what circumstances. Neighborhoods are allowed to take the lead.
Dallas City Hall’s chief planning officer, Peer Chacko, told me that because the city wasn’t directly involved in the Floral Farms planning and can’t ensure that all property owners had a voice, implementing the Neighbors United blueprint wouldn’t be “politically or legally defensible.”
He expects the Floral Farms neighbors’ work to be part of a more comprehensive land-use study in the future. By August, Chacko hopes that staff will be able to bring a contract to the City Council for hiring an outside consultant to lead that effort.
Chacko acknowledged that what he was describing “is its own drawn-out process that is not as fast for folks who have a legitimate reason to be impatient.”
That’s an understatement. Floral Farms and its many supporters were thunderstruck by the city changing what they believed to be the rules of the rezoning game in the midst of their work.
They also fear that further delay is not an option for their vulnerable neighborhood.
“If we wait any longer, there may not be a Floral Farms,” Mayo told me. “Given the risk to this neighborhood and the fact that city policy used to allow for this process, we still believe that it is urgent.”
It should be hard for any of us to stomach the many times that Dallas has signaled to Floral Farms residents that they don’t matter. These latest setbacks come just as the neighborhood believed it was closing the book on the complicated three-year-plus battle to remove Shingle Mountain.
My former colleague, city columnist Robert Wilonsky, first wrote about the 100,000-ton dump in December 2018 after learning of the toxic disaster from local environmental advocate Jim Schermbeck, director of Downwinders at Risk. Marsha Jackson had reached out to Schermbeck after trying unsuccessfully for almost a year to get Dallas City Hall’s attention.
By the time cleanup began in December 2020, Shingle Mountain’s existence had become a national story, including a lengthy takeout by The Washington Post’s environmental justice reporter under the headline: “How a pile of toxic pollution was dumped in a community of color.”
Monday night’s community meeting included testimonials from residents who had just begun to put all this behind them and dream of a better future for Floral Farms — but who now worry that may never happen.
Dr. Frederick Haynes, senior pastor at Friendship-West Baptist Church, closed out the meeting with a rousing call to action: “You do not replace a mountain of shingles with trucks. … Recognize the treasure that is Floral Farms.”
Just as Sorrell reminded city leaders that Paul Quinn stands ready to fight alongside this neighborhood, just across Interstate 45 from the college, Haynes pledged the same on behalf of his congregation. He challenged Dallas leaders to consider how hypocritical their equity talk is when compared to the city’s inequitable land-use policies.
“This community is evidence that you mistreat and discriminate in your policies against those who are suffering and already hurting,” he said. “Do not ignore the vision of a community that you have spent so much time in your zoning policies trashing.”