Dallas is taking over the former Shingle Mountain site. Will a park blossom out of the waste?

Amber Wang
Neighbors hope a new park will replace the toxic dump. But city officials on Wednesday revealed no plans for the site and provided no results from environmental testing.
Amber Wang, a board member for Downwinders at Risk, holds a sign reading “property city of Dallas” as she stands with other activists outside of shingle mountain after a giant countdown clean-up calendar was installed, on Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Dallas. The calendar signals the end of a 30-day public notice required by state and local officials to begin cleanup.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

By Everton Bailey Jr. and Lauren Girgis

Dallas is acquiring an abandoned recycling site where Shingle Mountain — more than 100,000 tons of ground-up toxic roofing materials — sat for years in a southern Dallas neighborhood.

What happens next is unclear.

Residents hope the ownership change will lead to a new park. But the City Council on Wednesday didn’t unveil any plans for the 4.3-acre site near Interstate 45 and Loop 12 before unanimously approving the acquisition.

An environmental assessment is expected to be released Friday, and city officials haven’t said if there are any lingering health dangers for nearby residents, who reported breathing problems and other issues while the debris was there.

The city takes over the land for free under a legal settlement with CCR Equity Holdings, which owned the site and leased it to Blue Star Recycling. The latter company operated an asphalt shingle recycling facility where it dumped the material, later filing for bankruptcy and leaving the six-story Shingle Mountain behind.

Marsha Jackson, whose home sat near Shingle Mountain until the pile was removed in February, and who first raised the alarm to the city about it three years earlier, said more green space would aid in the healing and growth of her rural neighborhood that is surrounded by industrial property. She said other residents have told her they feel like “a lost community.”

Marsha Jackson discussed the removal of Shingle Mountain in mid-December. (Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

“We have been hurt for the last three years, and we constantly continue being hurt,” Jackson told council members before their vote. “I don’t want any other community to go through what we have been going through.”

The debris dates to 2017 and piled up as Jackson reported concerns to the city in January 2018. Public officials didn’t take notice for nearly a year after that, after a report from The Dallas Morning News.

The city hired Roberts Trucking last fall to remove the shingles, and between December and February the company hauled about 139,000 tons to a city landfill less than a mile away. A pop-up classical music concert celebrated the mountain’s eviction from the neighborhood.

Debris is still being removed from the site, a city-run tracker shows. Nearly 15,000 tons of of additional waste has been cleared from the site since March, including around 260 tons on May 4.

Shingle Mountain was actually spread across two properties in the Floral Farms neighborhood, whose predominantly Black and Latino residents live amid a mix of agriculture and industrial zoning.

Almira Industrial and Trading Corp. still owns one of the properties. Almira, which is in litigation with the city, cleaned the waste from its property. And Almira has filed documents with the city to use its property to sort and separate metals — a move that neighbors think could threaten their wish for a park.

Evelyn Mayo, a fellow at Paul Quinn College’s Urban Research Initiative, said obtaining ownership of the tract held by Almira is necessary to meet the demands of the Floral Farms community.

“We’re urging council to acquire that tract because that’s one step closer to permanently protecting the residents, hopefully with council acquiring it, rezoning it and working with the neighborhood to designate it as public park space,” Mayo told The News.

Mayo said the Urban Research Initiative helped residents of Floral Farms create their neighborhood plan for friendlier residential living.

The property where Shingle Mountain sat sits empty on Wednesday, June 9, 2021, in Dallas. (Juan Figueroa/The Dallas Morning News)(Juan Figueroa / Staff Photographer)

Council member Tennell Atkins, who represents the southern Dallas district that included Shingle Mountain, said it’ll probably take a few months before ownership of the CCR Equity site is officially transferred to the city. He said the city completed its environmental assessment of the site on Monday, and he thanked residents, community advocates, city staff members and his council colleagues for their work.

Council member Omar Narvaez, who represents West Dallas and chairs the council’s environment and sustainability committee, called the site acquisition “a long time coming.”

“Today, we right a wrong,” he said.

Before the City Council decision, residents and community activists urged officials to work with the neighborhood and other partners to acquire the Almira property too to prevent another environmental disaster.

Dallas-based HKS Architects is helping residents design the park, and supporters said the community-driven neighborhood plan has support from groups including of the Dallas Regional Chamber of Commerce, the Trinity River Audubon Center and Paul Quinn College, which sits two miles from the site.

“Shingle Mountain caused a negative impact in our community,” said Genaro Viniegra, a Floral Farms resident. “And we want to see something positive come out of it.”

New industrial activity at Shingle Mountain must force Dallas to fix its unjust zoning decisions

Dr. Frederick Haynes
Southern Dallas leaders Frederick Haynes and Michael Sorrell call out the city for failing to protect this vulnerable neighborhood from environmental racism.
Dr. Frederick Haynes, pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church, asked for accountability from Dallas city leaders during a community meeting Monday, streamed on Facebook Live, at the home of Southern Sector Rising leader Marsha Jackson.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

By Sharon Grigsby

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.

Melissa Thrailkill, a member of Southern Sector Rising, uses an iPad to capture on Facebook Live the remarks by Evelyn Mayo (left), an Urban Research Initiative fellow at Paul Quinn College, and Jennifer Rangel, of Inclusive Community Project.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

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.

Southern Sector Rising leader Marsha Jackson looked on as community advocates provided updates on the latest industrial problems in the Floral Farms neighborhood.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

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.”

Evelyn Mayo, Urban Research Initiative fellow at Paul Quinn College, used a map that showed the two different properties that make up the site of the now-razed Shingle Mountain. Industrial activities on one of the two properties have caused concern for Floral Farm neighbors.(Brandon Wade / Special Contributor)

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.”

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