Sep 15, 2023

Another Year, Another Cleanup of the Land That Once Held Shingle Mountain

The story of Shingle Mountain did not end when a truck began hauling the 70,000-ton pile of broken shingles away from the Floral Farms neighborhood of southern Dallas, near the border with Hutchins.

Marsha Jackson lives next door. Her story definitely didn’t end when the shingles were hauled away. Last year, another neighbor, the Irving-based Almira Industrial and Trading Corporation, opened up shop in one of the two lots that once held the shingles. She maintained Almira was operating contrary to its certificate of occupancy. Jackson also said that repeated calls to city code enforcement did little to address the issue. (Almira has declined to comment.)

“This is the issue that we see with the city of Dallas—this is also what happened with Shingle Mountain, when we kept calling and reporting,” she said. “And that’s the frustration I have with Almira, because I have videos of that dust, of them working over there and they (city staff) tell me that they have to see it themselves. They’ll never see it themselves because when they see the city car or an unmarked car, they stop working. I’m just frustrated and worried.”

The impact of years of neglect and unchecked industrial use is ongoing. Two years ago this month, the city discovered that the fill dirt used to level the ground around the dump site was contaminated with lead. On Monday, city officials gathered to watch as crews began to remove 40,000 cubic yards of soil from the site, where it will be taken to the nearby McCommas Bluff Landfill. Clean soil will be brought in to replace it.

The neighbors hope the land, once it’s safe, will become a park. They worked with Paul Quinn College’s Urban Research Initiative, the Inclusive Communities Project, the nonprofit environmental activists Downwinders at Risk, and the design firm HKS to design a prospective park on that land, which is now owned by the city.

Their city councilman, Tennell Atkins, said there is a lot of ground to cover—figuratively and literally—before that can happen. That would include cleaning up the area to the strictest requirement, which would mean the land is clean of chemicals and safe to hold a home.

“Right now, we are going to bring it up to residential standards,” Atkins told KERA’s Nathan Collins. “Let’s get to residential standards first, then we will figure out what we will do with the property and what is the best use for the community.”

The community is now navigating a potential zoning change that would better protect the area from future polluters. (The next community meeting to discuss that is on September 12 at 6 p.m. at Eco Park located at 5215 Simpson Stuart Road.)

The current zoning for Jackson’s Floral Farms neighborhood is a mishmash of agriculture, industry, and residential use. It’s difficult to get loans to repair or purchase homes, they say, and the polluters and environmental hazards from living near industrial zoning has made it bad for their health, too.

That frustration, in part, is what prompted the Floral Farms community group Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos to partner with the Joppa Environmental Health Project and the Coalition for Neighborhood Self-Determination to file a complaint against the city with the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development last year. 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.

They want an environmental justice overlay district that would limit industrial work directly adjacent to, or even sometimes right in the middle of, residential areas like West Dallas and Floral Farms.

But even during that process, they say that the area is falling prey to unauthorized land use, dumping, and illegal tree clearing. And once again, they say the city isn’t responding fast enough to stop the activity.

“Trees are being illegally cleared and lots leveled on Simpson Stuart Road,” Neighbors United/Vecinos Unidos reported on social media. “These issues have been reported to 311 multiple times, with no results. This is how neighborhoods and the Trinity Forest canopy are destroyed.”

As the city holds listening sessions about its ForwardDallas plan, which will inform much of its land use for years to come, it’s worth noting that Floral Farms isn’t the only community that is asking the city to rethink where it places industrial zoning. The city’s Racial Equity Plan also says that community feedback included requests for a reduction in industrial zoning near residential areas, adding an equity provision to zoning cases that would impact pollution levels in a community, and better coordination with code enforcement when it comes to illegal dumping.