The company that operates the GAF shingle factory in West Dallas officially filed paperwork this week with the city that indicates its intention to vacate the property that has been its home for almost 80 years.
Community members began demanding its exit earlier this year, saying the emissions from the factory have caused a variety of health problems. Last year, more than 120 community members and elected officials asked the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality to increase the frequency of emissions monitoring from quarterly to weekly. The Environmental Protection Agency recently objected to that permit, giving the company 90 days to respond.
In July, the company announced it planned to leave West Dallas and said it would begin negotiating with its neighbors to determine a timeline for its exit. But it stopped communicating with the neighbors and ended negotiations to pursue the departure on its own terms. GAF officially filed a zoning change request on September 7, documents obtained by D revealed.
The zoning change request, which was filed by zoning consultancy firm Masterplan on behalf of Building Materials Corporation of America—GAF’s parent company—indicates that the company will ask the city to change the 26.5-acre tract from its current Industrial Research zoning to a Planned Development District, known in city parlance as a PD.
That PD would be zoned for MU-3, a mixed-used designation that is primarily used for high-density retail, office space, hotels, or multifamily residential apartments. The proposed development is located on the south side of Singleton Boulevard as well as the southeast and southwest sides of the intersection of Singleton Boulevard and Manila Road. It includes eight contiguous lots.
Under the new zoning, industrial uses would not be permitted. However, GAF is requesting a special use permit to continue operating as it winds down operations. That permit would expire on Dec. 31, 2029, and when it does, no further industrial uses would be allowed within the development boundaries. It is not clear whether Building Materials Corporation of America would continue to own the land or whether it will offer it to the city.
“The proposed PD zoning will provide conditions for the winding down of operations for the existing plant including emissions reductions leading to the plant closure over a seven-year time period,” the company’s submitted land use statement says.
In July, two individuals with knowledge of the company’s departure plans spoke on background about the company’s original intentions, which were similar to what is proposed in the zoning application. Those individuals described the company’s offer to apply for a zoning change and SUP that would allow it to continue operating for seven years. That plan would have included remediation and a commitment to work with the city and the community to redevelop the property at the end of that sunset period.
The point of contention, however, was how long it would take GAF to stop operating. Community members say they questioned what they felt was an overly lengthy timeline and asked for more information. At some point in July, the negotiations ceased amid vocal criticism on social media by two of the company’s biggest critics: environmental advocacy group Downwinders at Risk and the community group Singleton United/Unidos. This week, the latter group said it “remains skeptical as to what GAF will include in the proposed zoning changes and their sunset provisions,” adding that it wasn’t surprised that the company “decided to abandon negotiations.”
GAF says its willingness to file a zoning change and commit to leaving is a “clear demonstration of its commitment to work with the city and the community of West Dallas.” But Singleton United/Unidos spokesperson Janie Cisneros said the group feels the company was “untruthful” about its desire to negotiate, adding that there was “no direct communication with GAF” after the last meeting in July.
“Negotiations never existed, and we feel that it was all just a ruse,” she said. “Our concerns are that GAF may try to convince the city of Dallas to allow them to operate legally in our neighborhood, as a conforming use, through the zoning process.”
In May, the group published its case for amortization, arguing that the city should force the factory to move away from the people who live near it, citing zoning, health, and quality of life concerns. During the amortization process, the city’s Board of Adjustments could declare the plant a nonconforming use and force it to leave the neighborhood.
GAF has indicated that it would sue the city if that happens. If the board denies the amortization request, the neighborhood group can appeal to a state court.
With the zoning change request filed, it seems unlikely that the city would pursue amortization—at least until that case has concluded. When asked what comes next, Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez said it was his “standard practice” not to comment on filed zoning cases.
“Negotiations will continue via the legally binding channels afforded via state law and city charter and ordinances,” he added. “I am focused on the future and getting the best possible outcome that is legally binding with the community by my side.”
That doesn’t mean that the community couldn’t pursue amortization on its own, provided it could raise the $1,000 filing fee. However, whether the Board of Adjustments would entertain the case is in question for the same reasons the city might not pursue amortization: It may want to see how the zoning case plays out.
That doesn’t necessarily mean that getting the property rezoned will be an easy process. GAF will need to demonstrate that it has done the necessary outreach and that it has community support. It will have to convince both the City Plan Commission and the City Council that its request is a good choice. According to the city’s development guide, it could take at least 12 weeks for the case to be decided.
A GAF statement on Friday indicated that the company plans for a larger discussion with more of the community during the rezoning process.
“We believe the zoning process allows us to continue and expand our conversations with the community,” a spokesperson said. “We’re committed to holding a series of meetings in West Dallas where we can hear from our neighbors and gather input on the future uses of our property.”
Cisneros said the community will remain watchful as the zoning application makes its way to the City Council. “We really hope the city of Dallas will support its residents and secure guarantees that GAF will fulfill its promises,” she said. “West Dallas will continue to be resilient. We look forward to Councilman Omar Narvaez’s leadership and advocacy for environmental justice in West Dallas.”