P&Z bows out of process

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Commission turns drilling code ordinance work over to City Council

After a discussion deafening in its public silence, the Denton Planning and Zoning Commission ceded its territory in rewriting the city’s natural gas drilling and production ordinance to the City Council.

In a 6-1 vote Wednesday night, the commission acquiesced to a staff recommendation that the draft rewrites go ahead to the City Council for more work, rather than be continued with the commission. The recommendation came following a two-hour discussion behind closed doors, despite a posting that the third draft of the rewrites would be discussed in a workshop.

Commissioner Devin Taylor called the process like “running on quicksand,” after saying that the newest version was not the same third draft of rewrites delivered to the commissioners last week.

“We haven’t been directing the process for the last month,” Taylor said.

Commissioner Jim Strange voted against the approval “because of the City Council,” he said in a brief interview after the public vote. He declined to make any additional public comment, saying that he made his concerns known to the rest of the commissioners and city attorneys Jerry Drake and Anita Burgess in the closed session.

Brian Lockley, the city’s interim planning director, acknowledged the process had been different than to what the commission was accustomed.

“I really don’t want to diminish what you put into this process,” Lockley said.

The commission had the option to deny its approval of the rewrites. But as a zoning amendment, that would have required a supermajority of the council to adopt the new rules whenever its members deemed them ready.

Cathy McMullen, the sole resident to address the commission Wednesday night, said she saw progress in the latest rewrites but called most of them “fluff.”

“I don’t see the things citizens have been asking for,” McMullen said, going on to list such items as low-bleed and no-bleed valves, vapor recovery and increased setbacks.

She also recommended the city not use the word “feasible” anywhere in the new ordinance.

“That just means it’s not going to happen,” McMullen said.

Residents have been asking for changes to the ordinance ever since controversy erupted over drilling at Rayzor Ranch in 2009. The City Council changed some provisions in the ordinance in 2010. But, like other recent, controversial rewrites — the property maintenance code that took three years to update and the tree code that has languished since 2007 — progress on gas rules has slowed to a crawl.

City records show the City Council is scheduled to extend a moratorium, in place since January, on new permit applications into 2013.

The city staff initially projected the rewrites would be finished this summer and then pushed that to October. Over the summer, legal and technical advisors were ostensibly reviewing and incorporating about 40 recommendations from a task force that met publicly each week for more than two months in early 2012.

Yet, when the rewrites debuted in early October, the ordinance showed only 37 edits.

The City Council is expected to take up the rewrites again in a work session Dec. 18.

PEGGY HEINKEL-WOLFE can be reached at 940-566-6881. Her e-mail address is pheinkel-wolfe@dentonrc.com.


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