A. Lee Graham
A proposal to tighten Fort Worth’s gas line compressor regulations awaits further discussion after some homeowners requested that a City Council decision be delayed. Potential action previously set for May 7 now awaits Aug. 6 consideration after some council members agreed with east side homeowners’ request for a 90-day extension. “I’m really concerned about looking at it and making sure we have something that’s going to work not only for the residents of the area, but to be fair to the industry itself,” District 5 Councilman Frank Moss said at the April 23 pre-council meeting. Gas line compressors, which pressurize gas to be transported through a pipeline, have drawn concerns from some residents regarding potential noise, safety and pollution issues. Fort Worth has 41 such compressors in areas zoned for agricultural and industrial use. If approved, the proposed amendments would increase minimum setbacks between compressors and schools, hospitals and other protected uses. Current regulations require a 300-foot setback if the stations are fully enclosed and 600 feet if not fully enclosed. The proposal would extend the distance to1,000 feet for non-industrial districts or 600 feet with waivers from protected-use property owners or the council. Noise standards now applying only to agricultural, medium and heavy industrial zoning districts would apply to all zoning districts under the proposal. Zoning standards would remain the same, with compressors allowed by right in agricultural and industrial zoning districts and by special exception in non-industrial districts. Some residents, particularly in neighborhoods east of downtown, have voiced concerns about the issue. “I’m happy to say that no one likes our proposal,” said Dana Burghdoff, the city’s deputy planning director, injecting some humor into an otherwise sober discussion. At the March 5 regular council meeting, several east side homeowners vented their frustration after the council decided to delay a decision that was planned for that evening. Texas Midstream Gas Services LLC has objected to the proposed changes. At the March meeting, a company spokeswoman cited the need to transport natural gas from wellheads to houses and said that compressor station rules already are stipulated in existing city ordinances. Instead of a revised ordinance, Texas Midstream suggested requiring operators to use electric or natural gas-driven compressors, limiting numbers and sizes of compressors allowed on agriculture-zoned property by right, and tightening landscaping, among other suggestions. “I’d like to see an overlay of the industrial zoning and where residential zoning is and that would help the decision-making,” said District 2 Councilman Sal Espino, concurring with Moss’ recommendation for a 90-day extension. Meanwhile, the council unanimously approved tax breaks for Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and set the stage for possible tax breaks for Carolina Beverage Group LLC. With Wal-Mart expecting to exceed $9 billion in online sales this year, the company has made it a priority to develop what it calls a “next-generation fulfillment network” to accommodate online sales. The company will save 75 percent, or about $2 million, in city property taxes for 10 years on the incremental value of its location at 5300 Westport Parkway in far North Fort Worth and equipment and other items classified as business personal property. Wal-Mart will pay $1.5 million in that period. In return, the company is required to invest $30 million in business personal property for the 788,000-square-foot building that it would lease, with the greater of 55 percent or $210,000 of annual service and supply expenditures to be spent each year on supplies and services with Fort Worth companies. The greater of 25 percent, or $96,000, would be required to be spent with Fort Worth minority- and women-owned businesses. Though Wal-Mart will save taxes, it did not receive a traditional tax abatement. “It’s not a tax abatement deal,” said Jay Chapa, the city’s housing and economic development director. He explained that the company will reap sales tax revenue through a “380 agreement,” named after Chapter 380 of Texas’ local government code allowing rebates of future sales or property taxes. Whatever the financial mechanism, the deal means local jobs, with 40 percent of the 400 full-time equivalent jobs that are expected to be created by Dec. 31, 2017, required to be filled by Fort Worth residents. Five percent of those residents must live in the central city, according to terms of the deal. Carolina Beverage also promises jobs if it leases a 400,000-square-foot building at 13300 Park Vista Blvd., just west of the proposed Wal-Mart site, for shipping and manufacturing. The company produces ready-to-drink teas, fruit drinks and energy drinks. The city agreed to create a tax increment reinvestment zone for the Park Vista property before considering approving a tax abatement at the May 7 council meeting. If approved, the city would abate up to 70 percent, or about $2.4 million, of city property taxes on the incremental value of its location and equipment for 10 years. The company will pay about $1.9 million in that time. The city would waive permit fees, as well, saving the company an additional $20,000. Carolina Beverage would add at least 225 new full-time equivalent jobs by Dec. 31, 2018, with 35 percent required to be filled by Fort Worth residents and 5 percent of those by workers living in the central city.