During the citizens' comments portion of the St. Marys City Council meeting last Monday evening, resident Mike Brock asked council members to request that the planning commission again review the city's oil and natural gas drilling ordinance, which was recently updated to address potential Marcellus Shale gas drilling.
Brock said he understood the revised ordinance came about due to the research of several council members and others and joint meetings of council and the city's planning commission, but he still had some concerns about some of the zoning determinations regarding Marcellus drilling, particularly those specific to the Rural Conservation Zone. He said the zone comprises a large percentage of the city's land and that residents in these outlying areas may not have the same drilling protections as those who live closer to the city center.
"And in that Rural Conservation Zone, there's really two types of areas in there," Brock said. "There's areas there that you could go for miles and there's no houses, no dwellings, no residents live there. However, if you look at that map, you'll also see a lot of areas like Bucktail Trail, Taft Road, Paul Road, Windfall. There's a lot of areas on there where they're basically residential neighborhoods. The houses are a little bit farther apart, there's probably no sidewalks out there, no streetlights. But you can pretty much make the case that they're in a residential area and they should have the same protection as the residents that live in the more urban residential zoning areas.
"Drilling in that area is by conditional use, so that does offer some protection, granted, but it's certainly not going to be the same level of protection that you would enjoy if you lived on Church Street or Walnut Street or Wolfel Avenue."
He said he thought the council and planning commission went with conditional use for zoning in the Rural Conservation Zone because of a need to get something on the books quickly before the state Legislature enacted one of several drilling regulation bills making the rounds.
"I think the general consensus with council and the planning condition was, 'We need to get something done here, so let's make it conditional use and further down the road we'll re-address the issue,'" Brock said. "And now, since there's not quite such time pressure anymore, I'm sure they can come up with some workable solution."
Councilman Dan Hepner, a member of the drilling zoning subcommittee that made recommendations to the council, said a great deal of discussion was held prior to council approving the conditional use ordinance.
"This is an issue we talked about quite a bit, not only within our little subcommittee, but with the planning commission as well. And the reason we went with a conditional use is because, as you said, we looked at overlays and they just didn't work," Hepner said. "And we thought that by setting it up as a conditional use, you realize that anything that happens in the rural district, before any permit is granted by the city, the requester has got to come before council to request a permit, and again, that's a conditional use."