Council asks commission to explore oil and gas development

The Warren City Council has asked the city Planning Commission to look into the possibility of oil and gas development in preservation zones.

The goal of the preservation district is to “preserve and protect” certain areas. The council is looking into the possibility of allowing oil and gas development, including fracking, in those areas.

“Gasoline is the highest price on record in the United States,” Council Member John Wortman said during Monday’s meeting. “Today’s market is being derived in part from a very anti-energy policy.”

“The City of Warren has faced the never-ending challenge of trying to bring new revenue,” Wortman said. “We need to find new ways… without added taxation or reduction of services.”

He said “oil wells that have been drilled… have brought thousands of dollars to the city,” he said.

He proposed tasking the city Planning Commission with looking into the possibility of drilling in the preservation districts.

According to the city zoning ordinance, the Preservation District is intended “to provide a district in which only very limited uses and development will be permitted in order to preserve and protect floodplains, water use areas, steep slopes, and special natural, historic, or recreational uses.”

Allowable uses include: recreation, parks, and open space.

By special exception, the following could be allowed: permanent recreation facilities, single-family residences, and multi-family residences.

“Within any area designated as a preservation district, no construction or development shall take place unless the plans and specifications for such development have been presented to the planning commission for its review and approval,” according to the ordinance.

“Our citizens have enough challenges,” Wortman said. “I want to find increased opportunity to bring money into the city coffers that does not raise taxes.”

“This vote is not to change current city policy,” he said.

“I understand the need to generate revenue,” Council Member Wendy McCain said. “The preservation district in the 1980s was established as part of our zoning ordinance… to limit development…”

She said preservation district areas include “Washington Park, Beaty Field, the Conewango Creek from Point Park to Wilson Street, Betts Park, and Glade Run.”

“These areas are really close to our waterways along with our residential areas,” she said. “I’m very concerned about fracking so close to people and our waterways.”

“I think it’s in the best interest of the city to explore all options available,” Council Member Jared Villella said. “We need to be fully prepared. The exploration into what the planning commission would come back with is prudent at this time.”

“I’m not sure if I support the drilling aspect of this…” Council Member Phil Gilbert said. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t at least hear what they have to say.”

The proposal passed with McCain voting against.


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