The Dallas Morning News reported that Frisco’s Planning and Zoning Commission voted Tuesday to require Exide Technologies to follow current zoning laws, despite the company’s petition to be allowed to follow rules in place when the plant opened in 1964.
Rebecca Brewer, of the Frisco city attorney’s office, told the Planning and Zoning Commission it needed to ignore more than an hour of testimony from residents and plant employees that was based on emotions. Job protection and residents’ health were common themes.
Brewer said there is no evidence Exide filed permits when it opened decades ago and therefore could not have any vested rights in the property.
“What you have before you is based on the law,” Brewer said.
The commission voted 5-0 to deny the battery recycling plant’s vested-rights petition, knowing that the company probably will sue the city.
Exide officials said they will appeal the decision to the City Council.
“We continue to believe our vested-rights petition is legal and will continue to pursue our rights in regard to this petition, including legal actions as necessary,” company spokeswoman Susan Jaramillo said.
Exide’s petition argued that it should fall under the zoning laws in effect when the plant opened in 1964 — or no later than 1977, when other permits were issued. It wanted its use of the property to be grandfathered in so its applications could be processed without City Council or planning commission review.
Levels of lead measured in the air near the Frisco plant have landed a portion of the city on a list of 21 areas in the nation that violate federal standards for the toxic metal. Exide has pledged to make more than $20 million worth of improvements to reduce emissions. But it needs building permits from the city to proceed.
City officials have said Exide’s battery recycling plant is not an authorized use of the property.
Under the city’s current zoning ordinance, Exide is required to apply for a specific use permit first.
If the specific use permit is denied, the company won’t get its building permits. And without those building permits, Exide won’t be able to comply with the EPA’s new air-quality standard for lead.
Bruce Cole, executive vice president of strategy and business development at Exide Technologies, said Tuesday that he was disappointed with how the city has handled Exide’s applications.
Delaying the permits is blocking compliance and slowing air-quality improvements, he said.
Meghan Green, a member of the grassroots group Frisco Unleaded: Exide Out, said the company should be held accountable under current zoning laws.
“It’s time to remove the lead from Frisco,” she said. “It’s a public health nuisance.”
The plant has obtained multiple permits in the past from the city without needing a specific use permit. Officials argued it shouldn’t need one now.
Brewer noted that Exide followed the city’s procedures in effect at the time of each of those permits without filing a vested-rights petition.
Exide employs 134 people at its Frisco plant, which recycles more than 6.5 million used automotive and industrial batteries a year.
More than 100 people attended Tuesday’s meeting. Plant manager Don Barar and dozens of employees attending Tuesday’s meeting wore badges reading “Save Exide — Save Frisco Jobs.”
The plant has been at odds with city officials in recent years over its lead emissions. Besides air-quality concerns, recent inspections on plant property have found contamination on the ground, though the extent is unknown.
The Environmental Protection Agency has ordered Exide to do thorough tests of soil, groundwater and Stewart Creek to identify contamination from its recycling operations.
The EPA recently approved the company’s plan, and testing at the facility will begin next week.
A separate public hearing on proposed changes to the city’s zoning ordinance that probably would affect Exide was postponed Tuesday. No action was taken by the planning commission or during the Frisco City Council meeting held immediately after the commission’s meeting.
The air-quality standard for lead strengthened tenfold in 2008 as research in recent years has shown there is no safe level of lead exposure. In children, lead can cause learning disabilities, IQ loss and behavior problems. In adults, lead exposure has been linked to high blood pressure, heart disease and strokes.
A study published this month suggests a link between teenagers’ hearing loss and blood levels of at least 2 micrograms of lead per deciliter of blood.