Fort Worth’s gas compressor debate comes to a head — again

Posted Tuesday, Sep. 10, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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Neighborhood representatives are at odds with a proposed ordinance change that would allow natural gas companies to locate compressors — the stations that maintain high pressure in pipelines — only in planned development and industrial zoning, but would also allow more compressors on 41 existing sites in the city by right.

Neighborhood representatives, in negotiations with the industry and city for months, favor the zoning requirements but say property owners around the grandfathered sites— scattered across central, far south, far north and east Fort Worth — would be stripped of protection. The gas industry had asked the city to address existing sites in the ordinance review.

“Everything they’re asking for is industry-friendly and neighborhood-unfriendly,” said Bob Horton, president of the Historic Randol's Mill Valley Alliance, an east side group. “There’s no mystery there.”

City Council members are scheduled to vote today, with an unsettled menu of options — a July staff proposal, one amended by the council in August and a third floated by Council member Gyna Bivens, who represents the east/northeast District 5.

The Bivens proposal, which Bivens said she came up with after a town hall meeting and expects to tweak today, ratchets up protections for the neighborhoods beyond the ones they supported in the July staff proposal.

“We’re pretty much 100 percent behind council member Bivens’ changes,” Horton said Monday.

“We were very content with the July 3 proposal; we thought it was a good compromise for everybody,” said Mary Kelleher, a recently elected Tarrant Regional Water District board member and resident of the east side’s bucolic Mallard Cove area.

Mallard Cove residents triggered the city’s compressor review after fighting off at least one industry attempt to locate a compressor station on agriculturally zoned property in the area.

Gas industry representatives who have participated in the negotiations did not respond to requests for interviews Monday. They have warned previously that if the city impedes necessary compression in parts of their infrastructure, that would require more infrastructure and compression elsewhere.

The city’s current ordinance allows compressor stations in industrial and agriculture zoning by right. Neighborhood representatives sought to change the ordinance to allow compressors in agricultural zoning only by special exception, which would require a vote of the city’s Zoning Board of Adjustment and allow for no council review.

All three currently proposed ordinances would allow compressors only in industrial zoning and planned development.

Under planned development, the staff would make findings based on compatibility with surrounding land uses and zoning, and consistency with the city’s comprehensive plan.

The zoning commission and City Council would conduct public hearings and vote on any rezoning.

The staff and council-amended versions would require minimum setbacks from all protected uses — ranging from homes to schools — of 1,000 feet in nonindustrial planned development zoning. That would be reduced to 600 feet in both with waivers from all affected property owners, or by the City Council.

Changing setbacks

The council-amended version reduces the minimum setback to 300 feet — an industry idea — from a nonresidential protected use such as schools, churches, parks and hospitals, if the compressor station is “fully enclosed.”

The council-amended version is the only one of the three that grandfathers the 41 existing sites, meaning they would be allowed to continue as they are. It also grandfathers any future city-annexed sites to setback and noise requirements in place at the date of annexation. All but 12 of the 41 sites are in industrial zoning, said Dana Burghdoff, the city’s deputy planning director.

The Bivens version proposes the same setbacks as the staff proposal but doesn’t include the council-amended version’s 300-foot option.

Bivens’ version would require waivers from 80 percent of the owners of protected property before requesting a setback waiver from the council.

Bivens’ version also would allow only the 29 existing industrial sites to add more compressors by right. The 12 nonindustrial sites would be able to retain their existing compressors but would have to seek rezoning to add more.

“It’s a living document, and I do know the residents are just as engaged as they were before,” she said.

Libby Willis, chairman of the Fort Worth League of Neighborhood Associations gas drilling committee, said Monday night that the league favors the 1,000-foot setbacks and opposes compressor stations by right in any district besides industrial.

“It seems only fair and equitable for residents impacted by these compressors to know about and be able to have the ability to make a case,” Willis said.

Scott Nishimura, 817-390-7808 Twitter: @JScottNishimura

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