When the proverbial dust cleared, the citizens of East Dallas claimed a victory over Martin Marietta and Austin Bridge, the corporations that had eyes on a large site at Northwest Highway and Garland Road for a dual cement and asphalt batch plant.
And a big victory it was, as the entire Dallas City Council voted unanimously to deny the firms’ request for a zoning variance at the Zacha Junction rail site with prejudice, meaning that neither organization can bring a similar request for two years.
“We’re not in the country anymore.”
Another victory was in the statement delivered by District 9’s Paula Blackmon. She says she’ll be asking city staff to look very carefully at the zoning for the site and allowable uses, because as she noted, the zoning reflects a time when Far East Dallas was a distant suburb.
“We’re not in the country anymore,” Blackmon said. “This is an opportunity zone.”
Which begs the question: If the Dallas City Council and area residents were so vehemently opposed, how did this item (facilitated by Masterplan) make it past city staff and the City Plan Commission?
It’s an issue that’s not unfamiliar to our city, either, as this isn’t the first batch plant pitched by Martin Marietta, nor the first to force its way inside the city limits and its densely populated neighborhoods, most of which are home to several generations of diverse populations.
West Dallas’s District 6 councilmember Omar Narvaez echoed that point.
“Of the members of the council, I’m probably the most familiar with cement batch plants,” Narvaez said. “Because of systemic racism, batch plants have been built in neighborhoods with high numbers of people of color.”
They cause health issues, excessive strain on infrastructure, and environmental problems, Narvaez detailed.
“I know first hand,” he said, “and so do the residents of West Dallas.”
Scarcity of Information and Support
Those were the main issues that were brought up by the 25 speakers that dialed into the marathon Wednesday council meeting, where only one person — Masterplan CEO Dallas Cothrum — spoke in favor of the batch plants. He disputed the claims that the batch plants would increase emissions in the increasingly residential area, as the nearby rail junction would decrease the number of fossil fuel-burning transport vehicles.
However, the points from nearby residents, which included Dallas ISD trustee Dan Micchiche, human rights lawyer Bill Holston, and elementary-age Rheeden Fuentes, were too compelling to ignore.
Not only was there little-to-no public discussion about the proposed plant, but information was non-existent about the impact such an intensive use would have on White Rock Creek, the nearby youth soccer fields, and air quality due to dust from the plant — a point echoed by East Dallas residents.
In fact, the item was to come before the Dallas City Council in May, but Blackmon deferred the proposal in order to allow for public comment. And thanks to the highly organized citizens of East Dallas, most of which pulled together on Facebook, there were plenty of comments.
“We’ve heard you, it’s been loud and clear,” Blackmon said. “One of my sons has asthma, and we hear your concerns. Because of you, we make better decisions.”
However, if this outcome proves anything, it’s that the Dallas City Council has drawn a hard line on what is allowable in residential areas. Unfortunately for Martin Marietta, Austin Bridge, and Masterplan, their proposal definitely isn’t.
“I don’t care what area you’re in,” District 1 Dallas City Councilmember Chad West said, “if it’s near a neighborhood, a cement batch plant doesn’t belong there.”