Fort Worth council asks for more review of proposed agricultural zoning ordinance

Posted Tuesday, Mar. 05, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

Topics: Fort Worth



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FORT WORTH -- East side homeowners who fought off at least one attempt by an energy company to put a compressor station near their property were temporarily blocked Tuesday in trying to change a city ordinance to give them more say about whether compressors can be built in areas zoned for agriculture.

Council members voted 8-0, with Mayor Betsy Price absent, to send a proposed ordinance change back to the Zoning Commission. They raised questions about whether the ordinance would run afoul of state law, and whether it could have unintended consequences, such as pushing compressor stations into other neighborhoods.

The council stipulated that no applications for compressor stations will be accepted while the Zoning Commission reconsiders the case.

The commission approved the ordinance change and recommended it to the council two weeks ago.

Neighborhood organizer Mary Kelleher accused Councilman Danny Scarth, whose district includes her neighborhood and moved to send the case back, of "reluctance to support our neighborhood" and accused the gas industry of dragging the situation out.

"This is an industry ploy, it's so obvious," she said.

The council asked the Zoning Commission to get the case back to the council for its May 7 meeting.

Scarth said he believes that the ordinance change that results will better protect all stakeholders.

Industry representatives said the ordinance change could conflict with state law and cited a Houston case in which a court invalidated an ordinance found to be conflict with state clean air laws.

"I think this will ultimately yield a better ordinance for all of you than if we rush this through today," Scarth said.

The proposed ordinance would require energy companies to obtain a "special exception" from the city's Zoning Board of Adjustment before putting a gas compressor station on agriculturally zoned property. Substantial pockets of such property exist in east and west Fort Worth.

If the board denies permission, a gas company's only recourse would be through the courts, effectively pushing compressor stations out of agriculturally zoned areas near neighborhoods, city staff members have said.

Compressor stations are placed at intervals along pipelines to ensure that gas remains at high pressure and to move it along. The east side homeowners have voiced concerns about pollution, noise, appearance and safety.

Leah King of Texas Midstream Gas Services pointed out that the city -- in existing ordinances -- has set down "objective criteria" for compressor stations.

She said the proposed ordinance increases the likelihood of crucial infrastructure being pushed to "less efficient" locations, requiring more compressors and more horsepower somewhere, something she said "cities usually want to avoid."

Texas Midstream proposed requiring operators to use electric or natural gas motor-driven compressors, limiting the number and size of compressors allowed on agriculturally zoned property by right, increasing landscaping requirements, establishing substantial setback requirements with reductions allowed by special exception, requiring special exceptions for sites that are 5 acres or less, and making the city code more "consistent" among utilities.

The issue came to a head when the owner of a 42-acre parcel in east Fort Worth unsuccessfully sought a zoning change from planned development to agricultural to allow a compressor station.

Then last fall, the property owner sought agricultural zoning again -- saying the plan was to return the property to agricultural uses, not use it for a compressor station -- and was turned down by the Zoning Commission and the City Council.

An entity called Two Ponds, working with Chesapeake's Texas Midstream Gas Services, sought the first rezoning of the 42 acres. Chesapeake has since sold Texas Midstream and now contracts compressor services.

Rail resolution rejected

In other business, the council rejected a resolution that would have supported not-yet-drafted state legislation facilitating the privately backed 62-mile Cotton Belt commuter rail line connecting southwest Fort Worth to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport and Plano or Richardson.

Led by Councilman Jungus Jordan, the council turned down the resolution 6-2, with Price absent. Councilmen Joel Burns and Danny Scarth voted against Jordan's motion.

Jordan said he thought the resolution would have been tantamount to issuing a "blank check."

For the rail project to happen, a new state law would be required because the line would pass through 13 cities in Tarrant, Dallas and Collin counties. The deadline for filing local or nonemergency bills is Friday.

An unidentified team of companies has notified the North Central Texas Council of Governments that it wants to develop the line, using property values and station development along the corridor to repay the investment.

Scott Nishimura,


Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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