Danedri Thompson
There will drilling for Texas tea under 160 acres in Gardner in the near future.
On Tuesday night, the city’s planning commission approved a conditional-use permit for 10 oil wells, injection wells, injection sheds and one tank battery on acreage near Four Corners Road and 159th Street – right across the street from Celebration Park.
The property owners, the Russell family, will need to apply for additional oil and gas permits that must be approved by both the planning commission and city council before drilling can commence.
Many commissioners and the city’s parks and recreation director expressed concerns before offering their reluctant approval.
“I do have concerns long term about Celebration Park,” Planning Commission Chair Jason Burnett said. “I don’t think we want to hurt that facility, but we want to look at what’s happening in the neighborhood and match stuff to them.”
There are other oil wells in the area as well as Pioneer Ridge Middle School and Symphony Farms subdivision.
Jeff Stewart, parks and recreation director, said he worried how the wells would affect future development in the area. The city’s master plan calls for the land to be low-density housing in the future with adjacent parks trails.
“The parks plan was updated with the idea that this property would be residential,” Stewart said. “This would go against that.”
At one point, the land was slated for residential development, and the property owners requested sewer services be provided to it. Under the terms of an agreement, the city would expand the sewer system to reach the property, and it would be funded through a benefit district in which the property owners would be fully responsible for paying the debt related to the sewer upgrade.
The residential development didn’t pan out, and after litigation between the city and the property owners, the owners will be on the hook for approximately $256,000 annually for the next 20 years to pay the debt related to the sewer upgrade.
John Gilchrist, an attorney for the property owners, told the planning commission that leasing the mineral rights to the property was more of a plan B after the real estate market tanked.
“Property over there isn’t selling,” Gilchrist said. “The landowners are looking for other uses until the real estate market comes back.”
Long term, the owners hope to sell the land to a developer. However, planning commissioners worried development on the property may be hampered in the future, because it’s unsound to build structures on top of abandoned oil wells.
“Ten years down the road, 15 or 20 years down the road, what is going to be the use of this property?” Dan Popp, planning commission member, asked. “..Here we’ve got all these Swiss cheese places on a piece of property that you can’t build on.”
Greg Godwin, planning commissioner, said that’s a concern for the property owner – not the planning commission.
“I think it would be easy for a future planning commission – it won’t be us – to say they can’t build on top of it,” Godwin said.
Initially, the Russell family requested a permit for 190 oil wells on 560 acres, but they pared the request down to 10 with the possibility of requesting permits for additional wells at a later date.
City planners requested that the property owners place trees around the battery tank, in part, because it will be visible from the road. Planning commissioners added a provision requesting that three of the 10 wells also be shielded as they would likely also be visible from the road.
Jim Hubbard, the city’s attorney, also requested provisions that require the mineral rights stay with the property owners and that if the property owners default on special assessments to the city, that the city could use the oil royalties to pay for the sewer debt related to the property. He also suggested that the city reserve the right to terminate the conditional use permit in the event of a default.