Ordinance stands in way of school district sale to store chain

A proposal to allow underground fuel tanks on the J. Gordon Nix, Jr. Support Center building property located on 9th Street between Harrison Avenue and Tyler Avenue is on the city Board Meeting Agenda. The building used to house Harlingen School District offices. (Maricela Rodriguez/Valley Morning Star)

HARLINGEN — A battle is brewing over a proposal to allow underground fuel tanks near schools.

Later today, City Commissioners Frank Puente and Richard Uribe are expected to oppose the proposal to amend a city ordinance that prohibits underground fuel tanks within 500 feet of schools.

Now, a convenience store chain is proposing to purchase the Gordon Nix Building from the Harlingen school district as part of a $3 million project to build a store that would include underground fuel tanks at the site on Ninth Street between Tyler and Harrison avenues.

So far, the city’s Planning and Zoning board recommended the amendment’s approval while the Zoning Board of Adjustments denied a variance relating to underground storage tanks’ distance requirements from the proposed convenience store and a school.

In an Aug. 5 meeting, city commissioners postponed their vote to further research the proposal.

Concerns

On Tuesday, Puente said he’s concerned the underground fuel tanks could explode or leak, posing a threat to nearby residents, businesses and schools such as St. Anthony Catholic School and Travis Elementary School.

“Why place that possibility of risk in our community?” Puente asked.

Puente also said the convenience store would generate traffic that would pose a risk to school children and their parents.

“I’m concerned about the children and parents walking to and from Travis Elementary and St. Anthony School,” he said. “It’s a high-traffic area, especially during morning hours, school drop-off and pick-up and I’m concerned about the residents in the vicinity.”

Puente said the ordinance’s amendment would allow the installation of underground fuel tanks at other sites near schools.

“This is going to open up a can of worms because now this would allow anyone to open up facilities that bury petroleum storage tanks anywhere,” he said.

At City Hall, City Manager Dan Serna referred questions regarding any safety issues linked to underground fuel tanks to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, which requires such tanks be installed at least 50 feet from structures.

Meanwhile, Puente said he wants the city to send notices to nearby schools, businesses and residences, as a city official had discussed.

However, Serna said the city published a newspaper notice of the proposed amendment to the ordinance, as required by law.

Business owners’ mixed reactions

In the area, business owners have mixed reactions.

Sergio Zarate, owner of a nearby dry cleaning business, said he’s concerned underground fuel tanks could pose a fire hazard and environmental threat.

“I don’t think it would be the safest of environments,” Zarate said. “I’m concerned about how flammable and disastrous it could be for the environment. I’m always concerned (underground fuel tanks) leak into the ground.”

Next door to the proposed site, Tito Resendez, owner of an insurance agency, said he would stand by the commission’s decision although he’s concerned the convenience store would sell alcohol and tobacco close to schools.

“I’m all in favor of progress,” he said.

fdelvalle@valleystar.com