On Monday, Marsha Jackson and many of her Floral Farms neighbors watched as floodwaters rose, eventually into homes. While there were plenty of other pockets of town where people also watched a similar scene play out, Jackson says her community’s issue is almost entirely man-made.
Floral Farms’ most famous monolith, Shingle Mountain, may be sitting in the McCommas Bluff Landfill, but Jackson and the rest of Floral Farms is still zoned for industrial use, which means that those neighbors, on any given day, can find themselves dealing with a host of environmental issues you won’t find on Strait Lane or Lakeview Boulevard. Jackson’s neighbor isn’t a pile of shingles anymore, but it is an Irving-based scrap metal and recycling company called Almira Industrial.
In May 2021, Almira applied for a certificate of occupancy and claimed it would use the land for, “Machinery, Heavy Equipment, or Truck Sales & Service.” It stated it planned to “sort out and separate Metals to supply to mills, trading companies and export.” The land is zoned for industrial research, not metal salvage, and there is no specific use permit issued that would override that zoning.
Jackson has complained to the city about the dust, noise, and nuisance the Almira operation brings to her neighborhood.
“Take your business away from the residents,” Jackson said last month. “You know, there’s a full-blown concrete batch plant right off of 310 and 20. We’re not fussed about that because it’s not close to anybody’s home. The city shouldn’t even allow that, they know it’s illegal.”
On Monday, she posted on Facebook alleging that Almira’s decision to install steel fencing to block water flow from a nearby creek had created flooding in her backyard that went into her neighbor’s home.
Ironically, the same morning she watched the water rise on her property, Jackson announced that she had signed a complaint submitted to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development by several advocacy groups, including Floral Farms Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos association, the Joppa Environmental Health Project, and the Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination. The complaint accuses the city of Dallas of failing to address the inequity of allowing heavy industry continue to be a presence in their predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhoods.
“Shingle Mountain wouldn’t have happened if the land next to my home were not zoned heavy industrial,” said Jackson, who is also co-chair of Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos. “The nightmare is ongoing because the property next to my house is still zoned heavy industrial, and is currently being used as an illegal truck storage lot and is permitted for metal scrap and salvage.”
The complaint alleges that the city’s zoning policies violate the Fair Housing Act and are discriminatory since they impair the residents’ ability to get loans to repair or purchase homes. They have pushed for an environmental justice overlay district that would address the use of industrial zoning and other land uses that are directly adjacent to, or even sometimes right in the middle of, residential areas like West Dallas and Floral Farms.
“The City was zoned in a way that segregated people by race, and concentrated hazardous industrial uses with and adjacent to Black and Hispanic communities, ” Evelyn Mayo, chair of Downwinders at Risk and fellow at Paul Quinn College, said regarding the complaint. “Until we undo the zoning itself and begin to parse people away from polluters, which to date the City has failed to present a pathway to achieve this, we will continue to see disparity in pollution concentration and health outcomes.”
The City Council is due to vote on a citywide racial equity plan Wednesday morning. One of its self-proclaimed “Big Audacious Goals” is environmental justice in the city. Among the community suggestions were things like regularly posting air quality measurements by location, addressing illegal dumping, and eliminating industrial zoning in residential areas.
However, zoning was not listed as one of the action targets in the proposed racial equity plan. Cleaning up the pollution produced from industrial use by implementing the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfield Program (which helps address cleaning up and preventing polluted sites) is an action item. Increasing the amount of air quality monitors is an action item.
Addressing the zoning that necessitates both of those, however, is not an action item. It’s also missing from the city’s Comprehensive Environmental and Climate Action Plan, which outlines the city’s goals to address climate change and various city environmental issues.
This coalition isn’t the only group that has bigger expectations for the city’s environmental justice goals, either. In June, the West Dallas neighborhood community Singleton United/Unidos, which is involved in an effort to get the shingle maker GAF to vacate their neighborhood, also recognized how critical this time is. The city says it is focused on racial equity and is overhauling its land use plan. They see this as an ideal time to address these systemic zoning issues.
The group believes now is the time for the city to rectify an oversight from more than 35 years ago when Dallas failed to zone their neighborhood appropriately and equitably. “This is a really, really good time to press on these issues moving forward,” said Singleton United spokesperson Janie Cisneros. “You’re already forming a vision for the future of Dallas and incorporating all of these plans, including the neighborhoods and their plans. And none of those plans are for polluters (to be) in their area.”
When HUD receives the complaint, it will determine which department has jurisdiction, and then likely launch an investigation.