Warren City Council has asked the planning commission to investigate the possibility of oil and gas development in the preservation areas.
The purpose of the preservation district is to “preserve and protect” certain places. The council is considering allowing oil and gas development, including hydraulic fracturing, in these areas.
“Gasoline is the highest price ever in the United States”, Council member John Wortman said at Monday’s meeting. “Part of today’s market stems from a very anti-energy policy.”
“The Town of Warren has faced the never-ending challenge of trying to bring in new revenue,” said Wortman. “We need to find new ways…without additional taxation or cuts in services.”
He said “The oil wells that have been drilled…have brought thousands of dollars to the city,” he said.
He proposed to ask the planning commission to study the possibility of drilling in the preservation districts.
According to the city’s 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 flood plains, water use areas, steep slopes and special natural, historic or recreational uses.”
Permitted uses include: recreation, parks and open spaces.
By special exception, the following may be authorized: permanent recreational facilities, single-family residences and multi-family residences.
“In 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 review and approval”, according to the order.
“Our fellow citizens have enough challenges” said Wortman. “I want to find an increased opportunity to bring money into the city coffers that doesn’t raise taxes.”
“This vote should not change the current policy of the city”, he said.
“I understand the need to generate income” said board member Wendy McCain. “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, Conewango Creek from Point Park to Wilson Street, Betts Park and Glade Run.”
“These areas are very close to our waterways as well as our residential areas,” she says. “I am very concerned about fracking so close to people and our waterways.”
“I think it’s in the city’s interest to explore all available options,” said board member Jared Villella. “We have to be fully prepared. Exploring what the planning commission would return is prudent at this time.
“I don’t know if I support the drilling aspect of this…” said board member Phil Gilbert. “I don’t see why we shouldn’t at least listen to what they have to say.”
The proposal passed with McCain voting against.