Community advocate Natalie Miller has sounded the alarm for years now. She presented her position clearly at a recent Coffee with the Mayor event at the only grocery store in East Lubbock.
“We don’t want industries in our backyard,” she told Lubbock Mayor Dan Pope. “Just like you wouldn’t appreciate it, neither do we.”
This isn’t the first time Miller has talked with the mayor about the changes she wants to see in her neighborhood. The two had a similar exchange at last year’s community engagement event at the same grocery store. Then, Miller told Pope that industrial zoning was “decimating” the communities of color east of Interstate 27.
It’s a problem highlighted in Plan Lubbock 2040, the city’s first comprehensive plan in decades that serves as a roadmap for future growth. After months of community input, the plan was adopted in 2018. There’s a section in the 200-plus page plan that specifically shines a light on the needs of the majority-minority communities in North and East Lubbock.
The document states there are more than a dozen industrial sites in East and North Lubbock that pollute the area. Some residents have already told city officials that living near industrial areas has led to several issues, including health concerns like asthma.
The mixing of industrial and residential zoning in North and East Lubbock dates back to old land use plans. A 1943 document explicitly states that businesses that could prove hazardous should be relegated away from white neighborhoods.
The Plan Lubbock 2040 document may highlight the problem, but residents say it doesn’t offer a solid solution for fixing it.
Miller and other concerned residents think they have found an answer – an amortization ordinance. Amortization could require industrial sites near certain areas to relocate or close down within a timeframe and may include a process to compensate that business.
“We’ve tried so many things,” Billie Russell said. “And it seems like amortization is the one that might be able to help us with quality of life.”
Russell has lived in the historic Dunbar-Manhattan Heights area for decades and is president of the neighborhood association. She said her father worked hard so her family could live on the nicest street they could, within the red-lined limits of the time.
She wonders why the neighborhood has never flourished. Air quality due to industrial zoning seems to be a root cause.
“It’s not like it used to be,” Russell said of the area she calls home. “Children got older, parents got to where they could move, and then the neighborhood started getting more polluted. And the hopes started going down again.”
Russell has a simple dream.
“I want my 96-year-old mother to be able to sit on the porch,” she shared. “But everytime she sits out there, she inhales something in the air.”
Russell is also on the Comprehensive Plan Oversight Committee. Their job is to make sure Plan Lubbock 2040 does what it’s supposed to — uplift communities to make the city a better place for all.
At their most recent meeting, committee members wanted to know more about amortization, which will be talked about further in upcoming meetings.
Alice Lozada represents District 1 on the oversight committee. She sees and hears the effects of the industrial businesses near the Guadalupe neighborhood that she’s lived in and advocated for for 35 years. She is also in favor of exploring an amortization ordinance.
“We want our neighborhood to be clean. We want it to be environmentally safe,” Lozada said. “We want to have the best of what we can have.”
Other actions Plan Lubbock 2040 called for that are underway, like hiring a neighborhood planner to focus on underserved communities and a master parks development plan, could be a boon for the districts Lozada and Russell represent. But both women said the industrial zoning issue is one that needs to be solved for true progress to happen.
Mayor Dan Pope said the zoning concerns play into the part of the comprehensive plan the city is currently working on – a unified development code.
“That’s a complete rewrite of our zoning and subdivision ordinances,” Pope explained. “It hasn’t been done in decades. So we’re making certain that it gets done the right way.”
While Pope doesn’t want to see new industrial businesses open near East and North Lubbock neighborhoods, he said he doesn’t support amortization right now. He doesn’t see it as a simple solution.
“I think about our private property rights,” he said. “As a business owner, I look at it through the lens of a business owner.”
The mayor said he hasn’t found examples of amortization working well. But, proponents of the process say it can. Natalie Miller said she would share her research and examples with Pope.
A new season of Texas Tech Public Media’s multimedia series “Beyond The Report” looks at how Plan Lubbock 2040 could affect neighborhoods that feel forgotten. For more, visit beyondthereportlbk.com. Beyond The Report is brought to you in part by Texas Tech Physicians Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Sascha Cordner of Houston Public Media edited this feature script.
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