Property owners in the Floral Farms neighborhood of southern Dallas have been waiting since 2019 for the city to begin considering rezoning the area to prevent another Shingle Mountain. On Monday night, city officials finally met with the neighbors to explain what’s coming, a process known as an authorized hearing.
It wasn’t without a little bit of angst as residents and industrial and commercial landowners voiced their competing concerns.
For many outside this southern Dallas community, Floral Farms became synonymous with the giant pile of shingles that was Marsha Jackson’s illegal neighbor for over a year. That pile was allowed to grow to 60 feet high partly because of peculiarities in the zoning—some of the area is still zoned for agricultural uses because of the nurseries that once supplied area florists with blooms. A great deal of the Floral Farms area is zoned for industrial use, and some is zoned for commercial use. Residents, like Jackson, often live in those agricultural quadrants and are adjacent to scrap yards and other dirty businesses not present in more affluent communities.
Residential landowners here say that the city’s mishmash of zoning rules made it possible for the land adjacent to Jackson’s home to be used first as an illegal shingle dump and now as a metal salvage yard.
Last month, Jackson signed a complaint to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development that was filed 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 violating the Fair Housing Act by zoning heavy industry into their predominately Black and Hispanic neighborhoods, a rarity in majority White neighborhoods.
The city voted in 2019 to make the Floral Farms neighborhood a priority for rezoning but didn’t place it high on the list—this summer, its authorized hearing was still ninth in line.
The change is important to residents because current zoning, they say, makes it difficult to get loans to repair or purchase homes. 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.
This brings us to Monday, when the city held its first community meeting to explain the process of what’s to come. The area subject to the hearing encompasses about 522 acres and is bordered by Julius Schepps Freeway to the west, McCommas Bluff Road to the south, the Union Pacific Railroad to the east, and River Oaks Road to the north.
A few dozen people showed up at the Singing Hills Recreation Center to get a better understanding of the process from planning and urban design staff and Dallas City Councilman Tennell Atkins.
“Right now we are trying to make sure that what we can build is comfortable with the neighborhood and we are trying to make sure that everyone in that area knows what’s going on and knows the processes and procedures,” Atkins said.
Senior planner Mary Lovell said the ultimate goal of an authorized hearing is to review current zoning and land use to see if it is still appropriate for the area. If it’s not, the city can consider changes.
The process will begin in earnest once Atkins and the planning and urban development staff identify enough volunteers for a community-led steering committee. That committee, Lovell explained, would ideally be a mix of people: residential property owners, commercial and industrial property owners, volunteers with planning experience, nonprofit representatives with an interest in the area, and others like someone who works in Floral Farms or rents there.
The steering committee will meet several times, and its members will also reach out to people in the community to learn their concerns or ideas. That body will present its findings to the City Plan Commission, which will weigh the desires of the committee with what city staff presents. The City Council will be the ultimate decider.
(Lovell said the city is aiming for two community meetings and four steering committee meetings before presenting recommendations to the plan commission.)
Both Lovell and PUD Assistant Director Andrea Gilles said future zoning will be informed by a number of sources, including the neighborhood plan Floral Farms residents created on their own, the presence of a floodplain, the already-adopted Trinity River Corridor Plan, and even ForwardDallas, the citywide land plan that is being crafted now.
The meeting was also a chance to reassure some landowners, who clearly thought that the authorized hearing meant that the city was ready to zone their businesses out of existence.
“We really want to get an idea of the community, and we want to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the people,” said Lovell. “We have to look at if there is a residence and what kind of use do we want right next to that. There are also existing industrial uses that until we start going out and surveying the property and getting all the feedback of what is actually going on there, there’s no way to tell right now.”
One property owner pressed Gilles and Lovell. “I believe many of these people are here on behalf of industry and commercial,” he said. “How many in that area are residential?”
“I’ve been here for 40 years,” one homeowner said, “and I haven’t seen many of you.”
“So that’s one person,” the property owner said. “There’s plenty of us,” the homeowner responded. “You have 96 industrial and commercial already existing here,” the property owner fired back. “Most of them are operating illegally,” another homeowner said.
“Nothing has been decided,” Gilles said as she waded into the fray, adding that the steering committee could only make suggestions—it wouldn’t be making the final determination. “We have to start the review of the zoning, and take all these things into consideration. It’s not a ‘Hi, we’re coming to you, this is how we’re going to rezone.’ We’re at the very first stages to start having those discussions.”
At the end of the hourlong meeting, Gilles reminded residents that consensus building would be important moving forward and that despite the city’s interest in a speedy process, it was determined to hear everyone in the community out.
“How many meetings will it take for us to reach some form of consensus, some level of comfort? I will say that not every process leads to everybody being super happy about everything—there’s a push and pull and a give and take,” she said. “We really are committed to making sure that we’re hearing from all different angles and perspectives.”
Atkins and Lovell said they would continue to take suggestions for steering committee members for another three to four weeks and would then begin reaching out to that list to gauge interest. It will likely be the end of October or so (at the earliest) before the committee meets for the first time.
Bethany Erickson is the senior digital editor for D Magazine. She’s written about real estate, education policy, the stock market, and crime throughout her career, and sometimes all at the same time. She hates lima beans and 5 a.m. and takes SAT practice tests for fun.