News Article | 5/10/2010

Robson Ranch residents oppose plan to relocate Hunter Ranch well sites


Some residents of the Robson Ranch retirement community in southwest Denton are opposing an effort by a neighboring development to push proposed natural gas wells closer to their homes.


The developer of the Hunter Ranch mixed-use project is asking the city to amend a zoning district approved in 2008 to move planned gas well sites to the edges of the property, located on more than 3,000 acres along both sides of Interstate 35W between Robson Ranch/Crawford Road and FM2449.


The amendment would also reflect the sale of nearly 200 acres to the city for a park and the resulting decline in the number of homes and multifamily units planned for the development. But the possible relocation of proposed gas wells has drawn the most attention from residents of Robson Ranch, which borders the proposed development’s west side.


Some residents want the developer to move two gas well sites that would be closest to their homes, citing concerns over noise, traffic and air emissions.


The city’s planning department is supporting the developer’s proposal with conditions, including that wells drilled near Robson Ranch would be located at least 750 feet from existing homes unless property owners signed waivers. That’s farther than the 500-foot setback in the current city ordinance, which city leaders are in the process of updating.


The Denton Planning and Zoning Commission postponed action on the Hunter Ranch changes April 28 to allow the developer more time to meet with city planners and affected residents. The commission is scheduled to revisit the item Wednesday night.


The City Council would have the final say.


Kathleen Wazny, one of the Robson Ranch residents involved with the talks, said the proposal has been in flux for several reasons, including the council’s pending overhaul of the city’s gas drilling rules.


Drilling has been under way for some time at Robson Ranch and areas of Hunter Ranch closer to I-35W, Wazny said. But the proposed well sites deserve scrutiny because of their proximity to homes and in light of growing evidence that gas drilling can have harmful environmental effects, she said.


Wazny said she’s been encouraged by her interactions with the Hunter Ranch developer, Fort Worth-based Hillwood Properties.


“We appreciate the fact that they’re taking time in both listening to residents and listening to the city, so I’m optimistic that we will reach a compromise somewhere along the line,” she said.


Two officials with Hillwood Properties, senior vice president L. Russell Laughlin and planning director Robert Folzenlogen, did not respond to calls seeking comment.


The council approved a master-planned community zoning district for Hunter Ranch in November 2008. Since then, gas well operator Hillwood Energy asked to adjust the location and size of some of the approved gas drilling sites based on information gleaned from seismic testing, Laughlin said in a letter to the city dated Jan. 15.


The proposed change would reduce the total land devoted to gas production by about 7 percent, to just more than 69 acres. It would also add two gas well sites the city previously approved but did not include as part of the zoning district, Laughlin said in the letter.


Hunter Ranch was originally expected to include up to 11,914 single-family homes and 3,408 multifamily units, along with retail and commercial areas.


But the sale of land to the city reduced area available for development, thereby reducing the number of allowable housing units to 11,135 single family and 3,249 multifamily, according to city documents.


The project, which has also gone by the name Inspiration, has been on hold in light of the housing market slump and the loss of a developer, Arizona-based Aperion Communities.



• What: Denton Planning and Zoning Commission meeting


• Where: City Hall, 215 E. McKinney St.


• When: 6 p.m. work session, 6:30 p.m. regular meeting Wednesday


• Why: The agenda includes a possible vote on amendments to the zoning district for Hunter Ranch, a mixed-use development in far south Denton, including the relocation of planned gas wells.