Residents of Floral Farms celebrate steps toward remediation of environmental hazards

Residents of Floral Farms in south Dallas celebrated a zoning overhaul that would prevent construction of industrial businesses near residential areas and preserve single-family homes in their neighborhood, which has been blighted for years by a mountain of industrial debris.

In its third attempt in the past two months, the City Plan Commission approved a compromise Thursday that would designate vacant land in the area as agricultural land, establish residential zoning for existing homes and create a planned development district that would limit heavy industrial use.

Residents of the Floral Farms community have been advocating for their neighborhood for more than three years after a recycling company dumped a mountain of debris near their homes. Thursday’s action is an important step in residents’ struggle to overcome the impact of the environmental hazard.

The 15-member committee unanimously approved the zoning changes for the 552 hectares. The changes still require approval from the municipal council.

Shingle Mountain was created after Blue Star Recycling illegally dumped a 70,000-ton mountain of roof waste near a residential area. The pile remained there for about three years and was finally removed completely in 2021. Residents fear the pile was not only an eyesore, but also a health hazard.

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“We’re almost there,” Marsha Jackson, whose backyard was next to Shingle Mountain, said after the vote. “District 8 will be the first to set an example in fighting and stopping environmental polluters near residents.”

People living in the area wanted zoning changes that would eliminate all industrial uses in the area and encourage the construction of residential units and a community park nearby.

That rezoning request, however, was opposed by industrial businesses in the area whose owners said they were being punished for the actions of one bad actor. They also said a zoning change would not address what led to Shingle Mountain in the first place: the city’s inability to enforce code compliance.

Downwinders at Risk board member Amber Wang holds a sign that reads “Property City of Dallas” as she stands with other activists outside Shingle Mountain after a giant cleanup countdown calendar was installed on Monday, November 16, 2020. in Dallas. The calendar marks the end of a 30-day public notice required by state and local officials to begin the cleanup.(Ben Torres / Special Contributor)

More than a dozen community members and environmentalists spoke at the meeting to express support for land use recommendations that would assign agricultural zoning to vacant land west of South Central Expressway and establish residential zones for existing homes to prevent non-residential development.

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The recommendations would also create a Planned Development District that would prohibit heavy commercial and industrial uses, such as concrete or asphalt plants, commercial motor vehicle parking lots, large warehouses, off-site storage or recycling facilities.

Some commissioners were concerned that the rezoning would force businesses to close. However, city officials said there are businesses in the area that are already operating without proper occupancy certificates, leaving them out of compliance. No legally operating business would be forced to close because of the zoning change, they said.

Jennifer Rangel and Evelyn Mayo, along with Rayo Planning and Downwinders at Risk, two local environmental nonprofits, asked commissioners to consider residents’ request to designate the area as agricultural.

Rangel and Mayo were part of the Floral Farms Neighborhood Plan, a bilingual neighborhood planning process that took a year to reflect what area residents wanted.

“This is an opportunity for other cities across the country to see and point out that this is what cities and communities can do together to repair the damage of environmental injustices,” Rangel said at the meeting. “Now that Shingle Mountain is gone and the land has been remediated, the community has defined that space and reimagined it as a park.”

Mayo lamented that the action may come too late to prevent some of the consequences of Shingle Mountain.

“Marsha will never get back the hours of doctor appointments caused by the permanent damage to her vocal cords from Shingle Mountain,” Mayo said.

“The damage done to the health of Floral Farms residents and the erosion of trust in a city that was meant to protect them is incalculable,” Mayo said.

At least six representatives of businesses and property owners in the area spoke out against changing the zoning plan to agriculture.

“Please don’t wipe us out because of another bad actor and the City of Dallas’ abysmal inability to enforce what it should have enforced all along,” said Robert Miklos, a representative of Universal Logistics.

Floral Farms community resident Jerry Soukup speaks during a City Plan Commission meeting at Dallas City Hall, Thursday, May 2, 2024, in Dallas, as Marsha Jackson, whose backyard was next to Shingle Mountain, far right, looks on. The City Plan Commission could vote Thursday on a compromise that would help residents of the Floral Farms community avoid future environmental problems like Shingle Mountain, which once towered over their neighborhood.(Chitose Suzuki / Staff Photographer)

Trey Brown, whose concrete crushing business was located on 26 acres near Shingle Mountain, said the southern Dallas area was well suited to heavy industrial businesses that supported the city’s economy.

The corridor is bordered on the west by I-45, on the east by a railroad with State Route 310 passing through the area.

“I urge you to conclude that this region of the city is a suitable location for these heavy-duty businesses,” Brown said.

District 8 Commissioner Lorie Davis Blair said the staffing recommendations are a “compromise that satisfies the improvement” of all parties, including residents and businesses operating in the area.

Thursday’s revision was offered as a compromise to strike a balance between what residents and nearby businesses wanted.

“I look at this day to say not just to the Floral Farms region, but to everyone: the environmental challenges that have been our way of life have now been reversed,” Blair said.