Marsha Jackson learned some news this week that is so familiar that it’s unfair to call it news. She seems to go through this every few months. The new neighbors next door to her home—9505 S. Central Expressway, a piece of land situated like a watch pocket next to a larger parcel—are really the old neighbors, and they’re here to work.
The certificate of occupancy, which gives the landowner permission to operate, reads:
“MACHINERY, HEAVY EQUIP. OR TRUCK SALES AND SERVICE”
The city issued it Friday. Marsha Jackson is the homeowner who lived next to Shingle Mountain for three years. In an ideal world, you don’t know her. At least you don’t know her because she lived next to an illegal dump that grew so large that it topped the trees in southern Dallas. But she has become the face of environmental racism in North Texas, through no fault of her own. She just lives here.
This is just how she got people to pay attention.
Shingle Mountain, for folks who haven’t followed it, actually stood on two lots bisected by a creek, owned by different owners. The city wound up acquiring one plot, the larger of the two, but the owner of the land closer to her home did its own remediation.
This meant that the owner, Almira Industrial, escaped the lawsuit that allowed the city to acquire its neighbor. And Almira is now seeking to use the land for which it is zoned: industrial research, or IR, which allows it do to many things that shouldn’t be done near where human beings go to sleep.
Last May, three months after the city finished hauling off all those shingles, Almira got to work next door. Here’s what I wrote then:
“…[T]he company filed an application with the city to use its property for sorting and separating metals to supply to “mills, trading companies, and export.” Late last week, someone had already hauled in two trailers. They put up a white fence between the two properties. As of today, there are at least eight trailers being stored on the land. An operator at Almira’s recycling facility hung up when asked for comment. Reached a second time, the operator said, “Don’t call us anymore. We’re not interested.” The city will either approve or deny Almira’s request.”
The city approved it, largely. The certificate of occupancy doesn’t include verbiage that allows for metal sorting, for which the applicant had sought permission, but Jackson is concerned about the oversight required to ensure that this doesn’t happen. Almira filed an address with the city of Dallas showing that it operates out of a ranch home adjacent to the Las Colinas Country Club in Irving, backing up to a golf course. A cruel dichotomy.
Jackson’s home is zoned agricultural, which doesn’t give her the same rights to a public hearing when an operator wants to bring industry next door. They’re allowed to through the existing zoning. Last week, I wrote about the city’s new environmental commission, which met Friday for the second time.
Some of the discussion involved land use, particularly next to residences in areas zoned agricultural. That includes Jackson’s property. Julia Ryan, the city’s director of Planning and Urban Design, explained that agriculturally zoned land was acquired by the city through annexation or land swaps. Agricultural homeowners might live on the property, but they don’t have the same rights as homeowners who live on land zoned residential.
That’s the conundrum Jackson is in. Agricultural land is great for horses, which she had on the property for years, but it’s tough when an industrial neighbor moves in.
“We’ve been harmed the last three years out of the 26 years I’ve been living here,” she says. “They keep doing the same thing as if they are trying to run us out of our home.”
Jackson’s neighborhood of Floral Farms has requested a rezoning to help protect the residents, but it’s currently 12th on the city’s priority list. (There are 16 total on that list.) More broadly, the city is engaging in an overhaul of its land use and development code, but that doesn’t help Jackson or her neighbors right now.
Architecture and design firm HKS has designed a park for the land the city has already acquired. (It has a second phase planned for the land owned by Almira.) But the question remains: who wants to go to a park near industry? And a bigger question: who wants to live next to industry?
This is why zoning is so important. Other uses have tried and failed to get permission to operate nearby, like concrete batch plants. But some operations are allowed by law.
This is why Marsha Jackson won’t—can’t—stop fighting. Not that she should have to.