The Barnett Shale boom ended years ago but the legacy of those urban drill sites, compressors and pipelines remains, creating a tricky and often messy situation for landowners who want to develop the remaining land around it.
For more than a year, Mansfield residents in the Woodland Estates neighborhood have been fighting a proposal for Dolce Vita, which would be built around two abandoned pad sites and an active compressor station.
The 63-acre site is sandwiched between the Mansfield ISD Center for the Performing Arts and Ben Barber Innovation Academy to the south and Woodland Estates to the north.
The neighborhood calls for 163 homes, with the majority being less than 300 feet from a well site or compressor. Crowds of residents packed into Town Hall for the May 29 City Council meeting, many of them in an overflow room, to voice opposition to the zoning change.
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“I could not think of a worse location to have a neighborhood,” said Lance Irwin, who listed a string of problems from drilling operations. “Had it been surrounded by homes it would have been a full evacuation.”
That fight will continue as the City Council voted 6-0 to postpone the vote for 60 days to give the developer time to work with the neighbors and city staff. Councilman Brent Newsom was absent.
This comes as Mansfield’s housing boom kicks into high gear with new master planned community proceeding in the south side of town.
Woodland Estates residents talked about living with strange odors, the constant hum of the compressors, blowdowns and long-term health concerns and their homes are much farther away.
Tamera Bounds, who narrowly lost a bid for City Council in May, spoke as the president of the Woodland Estates homeowners association. She said 17 wells have already been drilled and Eagle Ridge Operating has approval for 39 total wells. The wells have been capped because of the low price of natural gas but they could be put back into production if the economics change.
Bounds said the new neighborhood would destroy many of the trees that screen Woodland Estates from the compressors, which is still taking in gas from other nearby drill sites.
“It’s an industrial use. It will destroy all of the natural habitat,” Bounds said. “The situation will not get any better but will further impact our quality of life.”
Eagle Ridge Operating, who operates the wells, opposes the Dolce Vita development, too, because it encroaches on its drilling operations. The compressor operator, Summit Midstream, has concerns about homes being so close to the infrastructure.
“We have voiced our general concerns for their ability to fully enjoy their property on a consistent basis,” Dakota Lee, vice president for Summit, said in a letter to homeowners. “While we know that the facility is safe and compliant, there is inevitable intermittent noise, traffic, lights and dust associated with routine permitted established operations. The closer someone is to the facility, the more noticeably these things may be perceived.”
Charles Dibrell, a director for Terra Associates, said this land will develop at some point. There’s an existing pre-development zoning for 12,000-square-foot lots and 2,200-square-foot homes that could develop without a zoning change.
“I can understand wanting it to stay natural but you have to own the land,” Dibrell said. “We’re trying to find a balance. We’re not here to upset the neighborhood and existing residents we’re trying to develop housing for future citizens.”
He said he’s caught between a rock and a hard place because Woodland Estates residents don’t want Meriwether Road to connect to Dolce Vita so he proposed putting up a gate so it can only be opened by firefighters and police in case of an emergency. But city staff opposed that because there should be more than one way out of a neighborhood.
He said he wasn’t aware that Eagle Ridge opposed the plan, too.
After more than an hour of discussion, Dibrell said he could use the base zoning that exists on the site to build a neighborhood if the council turns down Dolce Vita. That proposal would have fewer homes but wouldn’t have landscaping, opens apce and entry feature on Callendar Road.
The council seemed willing to give the developer a chance to work with neighbors to get the best planned development rather than settle for the existing base zoning.
City attorney Allen Taylor said the Texas Legislature limits what cities can do when there’s existing zoning in place. In this case, the property already had a residential zoning classification when the developer submitted this proposal so the city can’t suddenly shift it to industrial zoning to reflect the drilling operations nearby, as some residents requested, Taylor said.
Also, the city’s drilling ordinance doesn’t come into play when a drill site is already existing — homes and other protected uses can be built as close as to the well sites and compressors as the developer wants to put them, Taylor said. It will be disclosed on the plat and it’s up to the buyers to decide whether they want to live that close to these operations, he said.