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Town gives land back over gas production concerns

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Bartonville Town Council members met in a special called meeting Sunday and unanimously adopted Ordinance 497-10, releasing approximately 167 acres of land located in their Extraterritorial Jurisdiction.

“Closing our borders has been a topic of conversation at the Town Hall as far back as early June of this year,” said Town Administrator Debbie Millican. “Future incompatible building and development in our extraterritorial jurisdiction has been and remains a source of concern for our town council and citizens.”

The Town of Flower Mound’s recent moratorium on all new applications for centralized gas compression stations has encouraged gas production companies to seek locations outside of Flower Mound’s jurisdiction and forced activity in Bartonville’s ETJ.

Bartonville officials said rumors and speculation have been circulating regarding a proposed centralized compression station to be located in Bartonville’s ETJ between Flower Mound’s Tour 18 Golf/Residential Development and Porter Road, just south of Bartonville’s southern town limits.

When officials discovered that the land speculation and gas production activity was imminent, Mayor Ron Robertson decided that action had to be taken quickly. He instructed staff to expedite the evaluation and prospect of consolidating territory into Bartonville or relinquishing their ETJ in that area.

According to Texas state law, the released ETJ automatically goes into the closest contiguous city, in this case Flower Mound. The Town of Bartonville is a General Law City with limited authority and almost non-existent authority over their ETJ. Flower Mound is a Home Rule City and has the authority to regulate all matters relating to public safety within their ETJ.

Although that is the case, Flower Mound Mayor Pro Tem Al Filidoro said that it is likely too late for his town to stop the project.

“An application was submitted by Williams Energy to the Texas State Railroad Commission on Aug. 12 for the property, which was not in our ETJ at the time. Why did Bartonville wait to take action?  They are picking up our rug and sweeping their dirt under it,” said Filidoro.

“We are in the process of annexing our ETJ so that our ordinances take effect. Bartonville did not do anything to protect the property near their town that they have had for over three years. The action they are taking now is like closing the barn door after the horses are out.”

Filidoro added that the town could vote to not take in the land.

Williams Energy officials outlined their plans for the acreage, confirming a proposed compression site.

“We have six natural gas wells in Bartonville. Our affiliate, Mockingbird Pipeline, has filed an application with the county for a compression site in the ETJ area released by Bartonville. It is a 2-acre site, which is surrounded by land already leased for mineral development. The site does not include any plans for drilling, centralized water collection or injection wells,” said Williams spokesperson Kelly Swan.

Flower Mound spokesperson Michael Ryan said late Monday that it is the opinion of the town’s attorney that the gas compression facility proposed for the area in question is vested as a matter of state law.

A vested right is the right of a developer or landowner to develop a project that complies only with ordinances and other development regulations enforceable on the date the project was applied for.

When a developer or landowners has vested rights, a city may not require development of a project to comply with new development regulations adopted after an application for the project has been filed unless a specific exception is authorized by state law. A project with vested rights has secured entitlements to develop under known regulations

Ryan said that town officials are currently considering all options regarding this property and anticipate conducting a cost of service analysis for the area. Once a thorough review of the issues is conducted, all pertinent information and a list of potential options will be presented to the Flower Mound Town Council for determination regarding an appropriate course of action.

Flower Mound reached a mutually-beneficial border agreement with Bartonville in 2007 that solidified both the boundaries and the extent of ETJ between the two communities. Flower Mound proceeded with annexation procedures to ensure a significant amount of Denton County property is now under municipal regulation and subject to land use rules and ordinances; however, the vote by the Bartonville Town Council left this property at risk for unfavorable development.

“By releasing this property, the Town of Bartonville has essentially paved the way for the further industrialization of southern Denton County and the development of more gas exploration, drilling, and compression facilities along both borders,” said Michael Ryan, Flower Mound Director of Community Affairs.

“We have anticipated potential issues with natural gas facilities being developed in our ETJ for a long time. As a result, we diligently moved forward over the past three years in systematically cleaning up our borders to ensure we have the ability to protect our residents.”

Ryan said in a press release, “Unfortunately, the failure or inability of Bartonville to annex the property in question and the subsequent release of the land created an island of unregulated and unzoned property between the two communities. As the Town of Flower Mound has no legal ability to regulate land uses or apply the current oil and gas ordinance within its ETJ, the assumption that release of the property would create a regulatory environment for the planned natural gas compression facility was both factually and legally inaccurate.”

“If the Town of Bartonville is truly concerned about the health and safety of their residents, I would suggest that they consider taking steps to protect all of their ETJ from additional industrialization by gas exploration companies before another situation like this arises,” said Ryan.

“Unfortunately it’s too late for us legally to regulate this particular project because release of the property occurred after the compression facility application was filed and consequently the facility is vested. The good news is that we would have the ability to apply our ordinances to the remaining undeveloped land, if it were within our town limits.”

Bartonville officials said in a press release that “the Bartonville Town Council is charged with the responsibility of protecting its citizens and our bordering neighbors to the extent that we are able, even if it means turning over land to a larger town.”

“The Town will examine and expedite future border consolidations or relinquishment in order to protect against development which burden our resources and place unfavorable development which may threaten our quality of life,” said Mayor Robertson.

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