Baytown council approved a request by ExxonMobil to rezone 63 acres the plant owns in order to have space for material laydowns and parking.
ExxonMobil made the request because the oil giant is considering an expansion of $2 billion at the Baytown complex — partly hinging on the rezoning vote.
Tova Parker, ExxonMobil project manager, gave council context on why plant officials made the rezoning request for the Light Industrial designation.
“We started the environmental work permitting in November 2017 and are hoping to hear something soon on the application’s status,” Parker said. “Once we receive the approval on the environmental permit, and the endorsement and appropriation from ExxonMobil, we anticipate construction in spring of this year and with mechanical completion in 2021.”
Parker said the two new process units are important for ExxonMobil.
“One is the first in the circuit, and there are no units like that in the country. Baytown will be the first,” Parker said. “The other is the second in the circuit. Baytown is an important location when considering these units.”
Parker said the units would be constructed within the confines of the plant.
Baytown senior planning manager Nathan Dietrich explained to council two items needed to approved before ExxonMobil could move ahead with the project.
First, an amendment needed to be approved to the city’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan’s Future Land Use Plan from an
industrial buffer zone to a business park. The area ExxonMobil wishes to rezone is west of the plant, south of Courtyard Boulevard and east and north of Bayway Drive. Then, council had to approve the zone from Single Family Residential and/or Open Space to Light Industrial.
“Exxon has assembled properties over a number of years and putting together these areas, they want to change the zoning areas for a functional area laydown yard or parking,” Dietrich said.
Mike Ashton, ExxonMobil in Baytown spokesman, gave more insight into what the plant intends for the area.
“The material laydown is the equipment we will place into the area where we plan to build the unit,” Ashton said. “For construction purposes, we will put equipment, pipes, valves and other items like that in an area where we clear the space where we are building. That is so we have all the material in one area, so we can slowly assemble things together.”
Ashton said there are still some steps to make before the project goes forward despite council’s approval of the rezoning change.
“We still have air permits before the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, and we are also working with Goose Creek CISD on tax abatements, so none of this is for sure,” he said. “It is just in preparation for when we do get funding, permits and tax abatements, we will be ready to start construction.”
Ashton emphasized no one in the area will have to relocate.
“No one will be required to move,” he said. “This is property ExxonMobil already owns. We have met with residents of Lakewood and had a town hall meeting with them. We have gone to the neighbors to ensure they understand what we are doing in this area. We have also been in the community of Wooster and gone to specific houses to make sure they understand what is going to occur.”
Parker said berms would also have to be built in order to act as a buffer between residents and the plant in this area.
“We have compatibility standards that need to be followed in the city,” she said. “So, at that time, a buffer needs to be made, a 50-foot vegetative buffer and 50-foot open space with a 200-foot building line to be enforced when improvements are done. Exxon is aware of these. They believe this will be an adequate buffer and there may be an earthen berm to visually obstruct what they are placing in the area.”
Parker said they are estimating a peak of 1,700 workers when the project begins.
“So, to alleviate traffic on workers and neighbors themselves, it was important to find space near the units,” she said. “We did traffic studies with Traf-IQ and talked to the city officials and the Texas Department of Transportation to understand what ways we could alleviate the traffic.”
Parker said ExxonMobil is also getting help from the Baytown police department on entrance points and traffic guidance.
Mike Shields, executive director of the Baytown-West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation, urged council to approve the measure.
“The city has charged us with economic development, the creation of jobs and new tax revenues,” Shields said. “We are talking about a $2 billion investment that has not been approved yet. In order for them to move forward with this project, they need a place to let the workers park and to laydown the equipment being assembled. We feel this project is vital to the growth of Baytown and the continued prosperity of our citizens.”
Councilman Bob Hoskins expressed concerns over what would happen to the rezoned property once the units are constructed.
“It there some sort of temporary variance that allows them to do the project, but afterward it goes back to the way it is now?” Hoskins asked.
City Attorney Ignacio Ramirez said the city has lots of confidence in ExxonMobil.
“Why not enter into an agreement with them today they would be favorable to rezoning?” Ramirez said. “They have lots of credibility.”
Hoskins asked if it were legal to place a date stamp on the item so the property could be rezoned once the project is over.
“They will have to request rezoning and a change of condition when it is no longer used for light industrial,” Ramirez said. “And if there is no opposition from Exxon, that is the time to change it.”