Tensions ran high Monday during a public hearing about city plans to rezone several parcels of land along FM 2004 in Hitchcock for industrial use.
Hitchcock commissioners have fought public backlash for months over a plan to turn the area into an industrial corridor to attract businesses.
Residents opposed to the plan have cited environmental and safety concerns.
City officials have pursued the corridor because Hitchcock needs more commercial property on its tax rolls to lure jobs to the area and because it has more undeveloped land than the rest of Galveston County combined, said Sabrina Schwertner, executive director of economic development and foreign trade zone with the Hitchcock Industrial Development Corp.
After public outcry, Hitchcock in February canceled a public hearing about a proposal to zone for industrial use a strip of land as much as a mile wide and extending 6 miles along FM 2004 from the old naval air station blimp base to the Brazoria County line.
Officials at the time said they wanted to rework the plan, and they eventually decided to proceed on a case-by-case basis in hopes of lessening opposition to the rezoning.
But heavy turnout to the public hearing Monday night at the Hitchcock Independent School District administration building showed the change hadn’t muted the opposition.
Residents at the packed public hearing voiced the most opposition to a request by Van Goodgame of Mako Environmental to create a chemical transfer facility on 17 acres he earlier purchased alongside FM 2004.
The facility would hold chemicals for 10 days before they are transferred elsewhere, Goodgame said.
Some residents, however, were concerned about safety.
“You keep describing it as no big deal,” Tom Ivey said. “But what happens if there’s a benzene spill?”
The facility would start by adding about 10 jobs to Hitchcock and would hopefully grow from there, Goodgame said.
“This seems like selling our soul to the devil for the first shiny thing,” said Heather Gardner. “Is this all about money?”
Former school board member Ted Robinson said he opposed the plan on environmental and safety concerns.
“Hitchcock needs more business here, there’s no question,” Robinson said. “But I’m concerned about any harmful environmental effects.”
Several representatives from the city’s planning and zoning commission addressed residents’ concerns, saying their fears were based on rumors and that Mako Environmental’s facility would be safe and good for the city.
“I’m in a situation where I evaluate these with a 12-year-old daughter, an 8-year-old son and as a business owner,” said Travis Kauffman, who chairs the committee. “I have got to take all of those perspectives.”
It’s better to organize all of the industrial and chemical companies in one area of the city than it is to leave them unregulated and risk something dangerous happening, Kauffman said.
“We did not rush into this,” said Dorothy Childress, also on the committee.
The hearing ended discussion about a landowner’s request to rezone 1,500 acres along FM 2004 to industrial.
The property owner requested the change so that he can market the land to interested businesses that want to do manufacturing, Schwertner said.
If the land is ever developed, it could bring in between 200 and 500 jobs, Schwertner said.
“Honestly, the reason we are having some challenges is there are people with personal agendas out there that don’t want us to develop,” Schwertner said Tuesday after the hearing. “But they are such a small, small fraction of the population.
“We have to make decisions based on the city as a whole,” Schwertner said. “We know we need jobs and businesses to come in. If you bring in some, then some people are going to lose their leases on land where they had cows and farmed. There are a few personal agendas in the room.”
Monday’s public hearing was one of the final steps needed to continue with the rezoning requests, officials said.
The city commissioners will have a meeting Monday during which they will consider whether to approve the zoning requests, officials said.