Over the summer, as I was reporting a column on Shingle Mountain, I met Evelyn Mayo for coffee. We talked zoning and land use. I was curious as to how a multi-story tall pile of shingles had come to be located next to the home of an incredibly kind woman named Marsha Jackson. Mayo had been investigating this very thing. Southern Dallas, her team found, is zoned for a patchwork of industrial uses. In some cases, these are next to homes, which exist on land that may not be zoned residential at all. A paralegal with Legal Aid of Northwest Texas, Mayo was in the process of researching all of this for a report she titled “In Plain Sight.”
It uses Shingle Mountain as a lodestar, arguing that the city’s land use policies and zoning created far more vulnerabilities than just the lot next to Marsha Jackson’s home. Mayo and her team went looking for violations of zoning regulations and found a path that basically takes you along the banks of the Trinity River, from West Dallas—former home of lead smelters—all the way down to the city’s southern border near Hutchins, not far from Shingle Mountain. Another hot spot exists further east, in Pleasant Grove. These violations include everything from lacking a certificate of occupancy to industrial activity being too close to homes.
This report, which was published last month, is being offered to neighborhood associations around these vulnerable areas. Some include pockets of homes that aren’t correctly zoned residential. That means, say, a shingle recycling operation could open up next door and the homeowner would not have the same sort of protections as someone who lived in an area zoned single family. That’s Marsha Jackson’s conundrum: her home is zoned agricultural. So she didn’t get a formal review process before the industrial use began. The company behind this, Blue Star Recycling, told a judge that it ran out of money and can’t afford to quickly remove the pile. So now there’s something of a stand-off, and Marsha Jackson is stuck breathing in the particulate matter from the shingles that’s flowing in through her vents.
The report gives the neighborhood associations something of a toolkit. It encourages residents to call 311 when they think they see a violation near them. (Bizarrely, however, the report notes that “it is up to the discretion of the inspector as to what extent the background research is conducted on the site.” Which means they’re not always aware of current zoning when they show up. That’s a policy fix.) It’s also asking the City Council to re-zone some of the areas to prevent such establishments in the future, and, in particular, eliminate the patchwork zoning that creates opportunities for things like Shingle Mountain.
This is why we asked Mayo to come onto EarBurner. And then we wound up talking about Roller Derby and James Harden. Listen below.