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Longview council approves controversial zoning request related to proposed beer garden/sports complex

After hearing from a slew of residents, the Longview City Council on Thursday approved a controversial zoning request related to a proposed sports complex and beer garden off Bill Owens Parkway.

During the citizen comment portion of Thursday’s meeting, 12 residents spoke about the development planned for 1022 Bill Owens. At least five more residents spoke during the public hearing portion of the zoning request before the council voted.

Kenneth Shore, owner of ShoreCarter Resources, received initial approval this past month from the city’s Planning and Zoning Commission to rezone about 11.5 acres from multi-family to general retail.

Shore’s project spurred backlash from residents who live near the property. The city on Tuesday received a petition signed by about 40 residents urging District 6 Councilman Steve Pirtle to say “No to Retail in Residential Areas.” The petition mentioned the rezone and specific-use permit requested by Shore for the development.

Residents in opposition to the project said they were concerned about noise and light pollution as well as traffic safety.

Eddie Bartlett, who lives on Bill Owens Parkway, talked Thursday at the meeting about traffic concerns.

“The residents of the most affected neighborhood probably is (in the area of) Grayson, Stonewall and Bill Owens,” Bartlett said. “We did not get any notice of the construction and did not know that we needed to attend the previous Planning and Zoning meeting.

“We walked a petition through the neighborhood, and an overwhelming majority, probably 95% of the residents, did not know what was being built in the area, and most of the people we talked to, about that same amount were against it,” he said.

He also mentioned a double blind curve along the area of Bill Owens where the complex is planned. Bartlett mentioned wrecks that had occurred in that area, including at a house where residents had to install a boulder in the front yard after a car crashed into the home. He also mentioned the influx of traffic that he believed would occur and cause road jams.

Vance Freeman was one of several residents who live in the Huntington Park subdivision to speak during Thursday’s meeting. Huntington Park is behind the land where the complex is planned.

Although most of the Huntington Park residents were in opposition to the project, Freeman said he believed it would be an “incredible opportunity.”

He said he started a law firm in Longview, and like many others, had struggled to find professionals to move back here.

“I appreciate all of my neighbors here that have raised a lot of concerns. Probably unlike some of my neighbors I’ve had several conversations face to face with Kenneth Shore about this development, and all of those concerns that I’ve got have been alleviated,” Freeman said.

“I just think it would be an incredible opportunity for me to be able to walk out my front door, walk down to this trail and have a glass of wine and watch my kids play cornhole in a beautiful facility, and I think it’ll make the property values around the surrounding neighborhood go up, and so I’m very much in favor of this.”

Shore also spoke and detailed not only the reasons the complex is needed but the accommodations he would make for residents concerned about light and noise pollution and more.

District 1 Councilman Tem Carpenter moved to approve the zoning request, which Pirtle seconded but not before commenting on his decision.

“That’s an area that we need to develop. ... It seems like everything we’ve done over the last six years I’ve been here, we’ve made three or four decisions that we’ve had a lot of controversy over, and they’ve all turned out to be really really good decisions that we’ve made,” he said.

In another zoning request, the council approved an application filed by Nishil Patel for a specific-use permit for a restaurant and private club in Chaparral Plaza at Johnston Street and Judson Road.

“The Chaparral Plaza used to be an epicenter of Longview” with a Brookshire’s, Luby’s and a high-end men’s clothing store, Patel previously said. “It’s become an eyesore over the last 30 to 40 years. We want to reposition it back to what it was, make it one of the nicer shopping centers and more walkable.”

Nishil and his brother, Vivek, acquired about 30,000 square feet of the shopping center, including the building where Treasures resale store and Fisherman’s Market are located in the middle of the center and including a separate building at the far west end that previously housed a gym. They also own a car wash building in the parking lot.

The proposed restaurant and private club are set to be at the location of the former gym.

The property shares a rear property line with Bramlette Elementary School, which would render the restaurant unable to serve alcohol because of a city code that does not allow the sale of alcoholic beverages within 300 feet of a school. Fisherman’s Market and Family Dollar sell alcohol, however they are grandfathered in as the school used to be more than 300 feet away. Longview ISD purchased additional property in 2009 and rebuilt Bramlette.

The motion to allow a variance to city code to allow the sale of alcoholic beverages at the location was approved without discussion.

And the council also approved an application filed by Selwob Investments for a rezone of approximately 6.6 acres on Eastman Road from single family to general retail for a self-storage mini warehouse.

According to City Planner Angela Choy, 21 percent of the notified properties within 200 feet of the location protested the request, which meant that it required a super-majority vote by the council to be approved.

Choy also said a neighborhood meeting was held May 2 in council chambers where staff and the developer addressed concerns regarding buffering and traffic from neighboring residents.

Based on the meeting, the developer agreed to a 40-foot buffer adjacent to the neighboring homes along with limiting access to Rande Drive to emergency access only by a 6-foot-tall gate.

Solar facility near Ore City to help provide power to some East Texas customers

ORE CITY — As temperatures rise this summer, a new solar energy facility should keep power costs consistent for some East Texas customers.

Representatives from Hecate Energy and Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative invited the public to the dedication of a new 3-megawatt solar facility Wednesday near Ore City.

Solar panels covering the almost 30-acre tract of land near U.S. 259 and Texas 155 will provide enough electricity to power about 650 homes per year, according to Hecate Energy Senior Development Associate Ben Mathes.

Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo 

Hecate Energy's solar facility near Ore City was dedicated Wednesday. Solar panels covering the almost 30-acre tract of land near U.S. 259 and Texas 155 will provide enough electricity to power about 650 homes per year.

“The size of this facility is just the right fit for this co-op,” Mathes said. “One of the benefits of solar is the production curve matches very closely with the demand curve of your consumer. So, when the sun is shining and you’re running your AC, this thing is pumping out energy.”

To work efficiently, the solar panels move throughout the day tracking the sun as they convert its energy into electricity that is then fed into the existing electrical system run by Upshur Rural.

The idea of a local, community solar farm was born in 2015, according to Upshur Rural CEO Robert Walker, after energy prices began to escalate following a 2014 winter storm.

“In that same period, we started to see a lot of changes in power supply,” he said. “We were looking at rules from the Obama administration, and the group started to wonder, ‘What was going to be the future of power supply?’ ”

Walker said the group wanted the solar farm to be connected locally.

“We didn’t want to go build a giant solar field off in West Texas,” Walker said. “We wanted that tax base and that presence — and we wanted to bring those solar credits to our community.”

The co-op has served customers in Upshur County for 85 years, according to Marketing Director Tony McCullough.

Hecate owns, operates and maintains the facility but, down the road, Upshur Rural will have the option to purchase the project.

“Under this contract, they’ll be purchasing the energy so they’ll get the benefit of that service,” Mathes said. “We get to do the work of owning and maintaining the site, making it a more affordable proposition for Upshur Rural.”

He said the energy produced by the solar site will benefit customers by helping to control spikes in energy costs by allowing Upshur Rural to lock in cheaper rates.

The site is one of seven, small — from .5 megawatt up to 4 megawatt — facilities that Hecate is working on with small electric outfits throughout East Texas.

“It’s been fantastic to work with Upshur Rural Electric Cooperative,” Mathes said. “They’ve been a fantastic partner through a trying time, and we’re really proud of the facility we have here today and the ongoing relationship we will have with the co-op.”

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Meeting focuses on safety along East Loop 281 corridor in Longview
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Ricky Slaughter’s question regarding an under-construction Hallsville ISD school at Page Road was the first asked at a public workshop concerning safety along the East Loop 281 corridor.

He wanted to know what, if any, traffic accommodations would be made for the area of the road where the elementary school is being built. Slaughter predicted Page Road could become “a mess” with the new campus and asked if turn lanes would be added, if the road would be widened and if a school zone would be set on that stretch of Loop 281.

Slaughter was among residents from Gregg and Harrison counties who gathered Tuesday evening at the East Texas Builders Association in Longview to provide input on traffic and safety along Loop 281 from Tryon Road to Page Road/Delia Drive.

Yoleyne Romero/News-Journal Photo 

A public workshop Tuesday in Longview concerned safety along the East Loop 281 corridor.

City of Longview staff and liaisons to the Longview Planning and Zoning Commission were in attendance to help residents mark areas of question or concern on large maps placed on several tables. The maps showed the area of Loop 281 along with surrounding land, streets and major highways.

Bryan McBride, transportation planning manager and director of the Longview Metropolitan Planning Organization, opened the meeting and gave a brief overview before introducing Sandip Faldu, senior transportation engineer and project manager for consulting firm Freese and Nichols, which conducted a study of the East Loop 281 corridor.

yromero / Yoleyne Romero/News-Journal Photo 

Residents discuss areas of concern and ask questions Tuesday at the East Loop 281 corridor public workshop at the East Texas Builders Association in Longview.

Faldu said the study began with several goals in mind, including to improve traffic mobility along the corridor, improve safety, coordinator access and to accommodate for future growth in the area.

Crashes in the area, Faldu said, were down 35% from 2019 to 2020, but they were up 59% from 2020 to 2021. He said of the crashes, 58% were related to an intersection, 4% were connected to a commercial vehicle and 1% was pedestrian-related. Top contributing factors to the crashes were speed (40%), failure to yield right of way (23%), following too closely (13%), disregard of a signal (10%), an animal on the road (9%) and unsafe lane change (5%).

Frequent locations of major crashes were at Hollybrook Drive, Alpine Road and Page Road, he said.

When Slaughter asked about Page Road and the new school, several residents in attendance nodded their heads before echoing his concerns.

“I’m wondering what the repercussions are going to be for Page Road, which is not in great shape, and it doesn’t accommodate much traffic to start with,” Slaughter asked Faldu. “I sort of predict Page Road’s going to be a mess. ... Is there accommodation for that in your plan?”

Faldu said the study found that buses entering the school would be entering north on Loop 281 to get to the school driveway. He said going north along Loop 281, the left turn lanes are set to be extended so that there is enough distance for deceleration to make the U-turn. Headed southbound, a right-turn deceleration lane is planned to get into the drive of the school. It’s unclear if a school zone will be added on Loop 281, Faldu added.

Several residents voiced their disappointment that there weren’t representatives from Hallsville ISD or Harrison County to answer some of their questions.

The East Loop 281 corridor study is in the first round of its public outreach and participation phase. Material presented by Faldu indicated that next would be the analysis, concepts and draft plan phase, which is set to take place from May until June, followed by the second round of its public outreach and participation in September. Plans are set to be finalized from September to November.

Biden cancels offshore oil lease sales in Gulf Coast, Alaska
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WASHINGTON — The Biden administration is canceling three oil and gas lease sales scheduled in the Gulf of Mexico and off the coast of Alaska, removing millions of acres from possible drilling as U.S. gas prices reach record highs.

The Interior Department announced the decision Wednesday night, citing a lack of industry interest in drilling off the Alaska coast and “conflicting court rulings” that have complicated drilling efforts in the Gulf of Mexico, where the bulk of U.S. offshore drilling takes place,

The decision likely means the Biden administration will not hold a lease sale for offshore drilling this year and comes as Interior appears set to let a mandatory five-year plan for offshore drilling expire next month.

“Unfortunately, this is becoming a pattern — the administration talks about the need for more supply and acts to restrict it,’’ said Frank Macchiarola, senior vice president of the American Petroleum Institute, the top lobbying group for the oil and gas industry.

“As geopolitical volatility and global energy prices continue to rise, we again urge the administration to end the uncertainty and immediately act on a new five-year program for federal offshore leasing,’’ he said.

The lease cancellations come as gas prices have surged to a record $4.40 a gallon amid the war in Ukraine and other disruptions that have pushed prices $1.40 a gallon higher than a year ago. Consumer prices jumped 8.3% last month from a year ago, the government said Wednesday.

A federal appeals court in New Orleans, meanwhile, is considering a challenge to a moratorium on new federal leasing that Biden imposed soon after taking office in January 2021. Biden said the administration needed to consider the effect of new drilling on climate change and conduct proper environmental reviews.

Louisiana and 12 other states challenged Biden’s order, saying laws passed in response to the 1970s oil crisis require lease sales on federal lands and waters.

The Biden administration failed to “grapple with prior analyses” of the planned sales to give a valid reason for postponing or canceling them, Louisiana Deputy Solicitor General Joseph Scott St. John told a 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel this week.

The three-judge panel did not indicate when they will rule.

Environmental groups hailed the latest lease cancellation, saying the administration needs to do more to curb greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels that are driving climate change.

“To save imperiled marine life and protect coastal communities and our climate from pollution, we need to end new leasing and phase out existing drilling,” said Kristen Monsell, oceans legal director at the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group.

Republicans denounced the decision as harmful to consumers and U.S. national security.

The Interior Department’s decision “approaches levels of irresponsibility and reckless stupidity never seen before,’’ said Rep. Garret Graves, R-La. “We are paying record prices for gasoline and to heat and cool our homes. Rather than using American energy sources to help solve the problem and lower prices, the Biden administration continues to carry out policies that benefit’’ Iran, Saudi Arabia, Venezuela and other countries, Graves said.

“New leasing will not lower current gas prices,’’ countered Dustin Renaud, a spokesman for the environmental coalition Healthy Gulf. It takes several years for new leases to begin producing oil, he noted, adding that the industry “is already sitting on over 8 million acres of unused offshore leases.’’

The state challenge to Biden’s leasing order has not yet gone to trial, but a federal judge blocked the order in a preliminary injunction last year, writing that since federal law does not state the president can suspend oil lease sales, only Congress can do so.

After U.S. District Judge Terry Doughty ruled for the states, the Interior Department held an offshore lease sale last fall, which a federal judge in Washington, D.C. later blocked.

The administration has appealed Doughty’s ruling, but has scheduled onshore lease sales next month in eight mostly Western states. However, the administration scaled back the amount of land offered for drilling and raised royalty rates by 50%.

Biden has come under pressure to increase U.S. crude production as fuel prices spike because of the coronavirus pandemic and the war in Ukraine. The United States and other nations have banned imports of Russian oil, driving up prices worldwide.

Biden also faces pressure from Democrats and environmental groups urging him to do more to combat climate change, even as his legislative proposals on climate and clean energy remain stalled in a sharply divided Congress.

Interior cannot conduct new offshore oil and gas lease sales until it has completed a required five-year plan. The current plan expires June 30, and administration officials have not said when or if a replacement will be released.

Interior Secretary Deb Haaland said last month that the oil and gas industry is “set” with the amount of drilling permits at its disposal. She defended Biden administration actions to scale down federal leasing, saying that industry has about 9,000 permits that have been approved but are not being used.

“The industry is free to use these permits in a way they see fit. They just haven’t acted on those,” Haaland told a House committee last week.

Oil companies say they have increased production as the economy recovers from the coronavirus pandemic, but they have been reluctant to ramp up production further, citing a shortage of workers and restraints from investors wary that today’s high prices won’t last. Decisions by the OPEC+ oil cartel, led by Saudi Arabia and Russia, to only modestly increase supplies to the world market have also kept prices high.

Major oil companies reported surging profits in the first quarter and are sending tens of billions of dollars in dividends to shareholders, along with stock buybacks that have sharply increased the value of investor holdings.

Democrats accuse the industry of “price gouging” and have vowed to bring legislation cracking down on price manipulation to votes in the House and Senate. A bid to impose a “windfall profits” tax on oil producers has generated little support in Congress.


Associated Press writer Janet McConnaughey in New Orleans contributed to this report.