By Marice Richter and Robert Francis
Pushback from the city of Fort Worth, landowners, real estate developers and others has put the brakes on a move by the Tarrant County Regional Water District to expand its authority to land use as well as waterways.
The Fort Worth City Council learned on Tuesday that negotiations between city and TRWD staffers resulted in an agreement to postpone a planned Sept. 15 vote by the TRWD board on proposed revisions to the district’s General Ordinance and Commercial Facilities Ordinance. The changes were originally set for the Sept. 15 TRWD board meeting.
“The revised ordinances would greatly expand the authority of the district to regulate development in Fort Worth and surrounding cities and counties,” City Manager David Cooke stated in a memo to council members.
If the revisions were to be approved, the TRWD would have jurisdiction over land use in all land that drains into district water within a service area that includes part or all of 11 counties, including Tarrant, Denton and Parker.
Several council members expressed unhappiness at the water district’s plans.
“I think it’s a significant overreach by people that should be taking care of water and not development on land that’s adjacent to water,” said council member Dennis Shingleton. “Second of all, we all know there’s a few developments going on around the city that there is some aspect of – this smells a little funny – because of the development near the water and bypassing the city’s authority here.
“So, I’m looking forward to the bell ringing and stepping in the ring on this one,” Shingleton said.
Council members were especially critical of the TRWD officials’ move to change the ordinances without a thorough review and widely publicized opportunity for public input.
Cooke’s memo said Fort Worth staff only learned of the water district’s proposed revisions and its timetable for the upcoming vote late last week, after the TRWD board met on Aug. 18 and then posted the proposed changes to the district’s website.
Assistant City Manager Dana Burghdoff confirmed that water district officials did not contact the city prior to posting notice of the Sept. 15 vote for adoption of the revisions.
“It does provide an email address for the public to submit comments,” Burghdoff said. “But in terms of actively notifying cities or other stakeholders, I’m not aware they were planning to do so.”
But Burghdorff also said that TRWD staffers told city staffers that it was not their intention to “broaden the authority of the water district.
“Those are revisions that we’ll be seeking to make to the ordinances to clarify the point,” she said.
Council member Brian Byrd said the water district’s handling of the entire situation is alarming.
“Not connecting with us staff to staff before they came out with this, given how significantly it would affect the city of Fort Worth, our citizens,” he said. “And, not making public comments available in the usual manner so that this has full input from the community.
“Those are troubling for me to hear about,” Byrd said.
Mayor Betsy Price said she was also upset with the way the process has been handled.
“I’m hard-pressed to understand why they didn’t do this with more openness and transparency,” Mayor Betsy Price said.
Other community stakeholders also expressed concern about the way the process of adopting the revisions was being handled by the water district.
“We look forward to working the water district professional to ensure their efforts are effective and workable with developers, business and land owners,” said former Mayor Ken Barr, who is currently chairman of the board of the Real Estate Council of Greater Fort Worth.
Travis D. Clegg, vice president and principal with Peloton Land Solutions in Fort Worth, a land development firm, said, “we’re all in favor of clean waters and streams, that’s not the issue.
“The way they (the TRWD) are going about this is not right,” Clegg said. “This is not something that should be done behind closed doors.”
Other proposed changes to the ordinances include:
The geographic impact of the ordinances is greatly expanded:
- The definition for District Water is expanded to include all bodies or accumulations of water, natural or artificial, located within the District’s Service Area.
- The new definition of Service Area includes the area where the District provides raw water to customers. This includes all or part of 11 counties (Tarrant, Denton, Parker, etc.)
The authority of the General Manager is expanded to:
- Create, set the amount of, and collect fees for licenses and permits.
- Promulgate, adopt and amend residential improvement permit guidelines.
- Adopt or amend any standards governing construction or maintenance of any improvement on or in District Land or District Water.
- Require the District’s customers (e.g. the City of Fort Worth) to adopt ordinances implementing the District’s master drainage plan and other plans for water quality, and preventing waste or unauthorized use of District Water.
Development or use of land draining into District Water shall comply with TRWD’s Water Quality Guidance Manual.