Fort Worth neighbors need an answer in gas compressor fight

Posted Wednesday, Mar. 06, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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The people who live in Fort Worth's Mallard Cove subdivision, on Randol Mill Road just east of East Loop 820, have good reason to be mad at their City Council and the employees on its legal and zoning staff.

Those neighbors have played by the rules, tightly organized themselves, brought in allies from the nearby River Trails and River Crest subdivisions and successfully fought off a natural gas industry plan to locate a huge 15-unit compressor station adjacent to their homes.

Or at least they successfully fought it 15 months ago. But this phoenix of a project keeps coming back to haunt the neighborhoods, and they find themselves still pouring time and energy into fighting it.

They won again a month ago, when the Zoning Commission turned down another industry request to build the compressors. As industry representatives saw momentum shifting toward the neighbors, they pleaded with the commission to give them more time to come up with alternatives.

The commission, by a 5-2 vote with one abstention, decided that time had run out and denied the request.

On Tuesday night, after the neighbors organized yet another large turnout for a City Council hearing on yet another industry appeal, the council members decided to prolong the agony. They sent the appeal back to the Zoning Commission for more work.

The commission is supposed to hear the case again in April, and it's scheduled to come back to the council May 7.

That has to be a big disappointment for the people in Mallard Cove, River Trails and River Crest. It takes a lot of effort to fight City Hall, and most people don't want to spend years doing it.

Councilman Danny Scarth, whose east/northeast-side District 4 includes these neighborhoods, said the council had received worrisome information during a closed meeting about possible legal ramifications of limiting placement of compressors.

The delay, Scarth said, will yield a zoning ordinance with "more protection" that is "more likely to stand up if it is challenged."

That's a reasonable goal, but it doesn't explain why after so many months the council doesn't have a satisfactory ordinance proposal before it already.

Scarth blamed delays partly on the Texas Open Meetings Act, which limits council action to public meetings with agendas posted at least three days earlier.

That scapegoat won't work. State law does not restrict the city staff in its preparation of proper ordinances to lay before the council.

More likely, the worry is confined to gas industry allegations that the ordinance presented to the council Tuesday is vulnerable to legal challenge.

Ultimately, despite the protracted inconvenience to Mallard Cove and its neighbors, the council has to be very careful about how it writes the zoning ordinance.

The core question is a legal hair-splitter: whether natural gas companies have a right to place compressors on land zoned for agricultural use, like the 42 acres adjacent to Mallard Cove, or can do so only by "special exception" to zoning laws that ban them.

City Hall owes everyone in Fort Worth a well-crafted zoning ordinance. But it also owes the residents of these neighborhoods an answer that will allow them to get on with their lives.

The council must meet both of those requirements no later than its appointed May 7 meeting.

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