HICKORY – Mt. Pleasant Township can regulate where the natural gas industry conducts its business, but not necessarily how.
That point, articulated by community planner John Trant Jr., was frustrating for some township residents who voiced their concerns with the industry during a town hall meeting Monday to discuss eventual revisions to the township’s oil and gas zoning law.
Trant, who is helping to overhaul a zoning ordinance that does not match the ever-changing industry landscape, said the goal is to enhance the law without setting too many restrictions that would lead to more litigation.
And for a township involved in almost perpetual litigation surrounding its zoning ordinance, many officials and residents would like to limit future problems.
“What we want to avoid is starting off with drafting regulations that are going to swing the pendulum too far and immediately be susceptible to challenge,” Trant said, “and then we’re right back where we started from when the township declared portions of the ordinance invalid.”
Parts of the zoning ordinance were invalidated by supervisors at a meeting last October because the ordinance did not adequately provide for the use of impoundments and water storage facilities. Supervisors proposed changing the current conditional use process for natural gas drilling to a “use by right” procedure, but that motion ultimately died to allow for more public input.
Supervisors then approved a schedule to allow for a town hall meeting, and a public hearing is tentatively scheduled for October 2014 before a vote is taken on the amended oil and gas zoning ordinance.
The township also will consider some suggestions from Range Resources, which operates four Marcellus Shale impoundments in Mt. Pleasant. Trant said the township wants to find a middle ground with help from residents.
Some residents suggested limiting impoundments and well pads only to industrial-zoned land, while others said those restrictions would go too far.
Don Reed said too many regulations would drive the industry out of Mt. Pleasant to neighboring municipalities.
“If you make it too restrictive, they come in as close to our township as they can,” Reed said. “We get all the truck traffic … but we don’t get any benefits.”
Kim Forrest said industry accessories, such as impoundments, should not be permitted in residential districts.
“You cannot allow ancillary sort of uses in that district, and that would be compressor stations, impoundments, any other kind of process that could be reasonably done somewhere else,” she said.
Forrest also said the zoning law should not be bogged down by highly technical terms for each Marcellus Shale facility. Instead, the definitions should encompass what each facility is being used for.
“The technology is going to change. It’s going to be unrecognizable, and besides that, each company and its industry can label whatever the process is under a certain name,” Forrest said.
Residents also discussed whether the consideration of industry facilities should remain a conditional-use process or change to a “use by right” process, which sets general criteria and expedites the process.
The next step of the schedule is a planning commission meeting August 4, at which time the board will review proposed zoning ordinance amendments.