Yetzirah Urthaler Basaran and her husband thought they had purchased the perfect home – a beautiful residence they’d get to help design themselves in a brand-new development called the Haven at Seven Lakes.
And the Katy ISD schools are some of the best in the region, she said.
It wasn’t until the Richmond couple was driving to a preconstruction meeting in June that they noticed a sign advertising a gas station, and began to have concerns, she said.
“If we’d known this was going to be so close, I don’t think we would have purchased this home,” Basaran said. “In terms of priorities, health comes first before schools.”
Basaran’s mother, for instance, is battling breast cancer and Basaran worries about living so close to a facility that produces benzene, she said.
As the couple set out to stop the station’s development, they soon learned they, like several other neighborhoods in the Houston region, were facing an uphill, if not impossible battle.
“Unfortunately, there is no state (regulation) that prevents this,” said Matthew Tresaugue, spokesperson for Environmental Defense Fund, a Houston-based nonprofit. “Gas stations are permitted by the TCEQ (Texas Commission on Environmental Quality) on a ‘permit by rule’ basis that doesn’t include much regulatory oversight related to sitting requirements as long as the facility isn’t in conflict with any of the Texas Health and Safety Code.”
The Texas Health and Safety Code provides some requirements for gas stations, such as limits on how big storage tanks can be and ensuring they are at least 100 feet away from a school, hospital, nursing home, day-care center or nursery, among other requirements.
Essentially, Basaran is especially concerned that the gas station would eventually sit less than 200 feet from some homes, and less than 400 feet from a playground, she said.
“We are very concerned with the health implications associated with inhaling benzene – cancer, respiratory problems, etc. – and the risk of fire or an explosion,” she said.
Basaran is also worried about the possibility that such a facility might catch fire, she said.
Benzene is a normally colorless chemical commonly found in crude oil and other petrochemicals. It is considered a carcinogen.
Basaran and her family have set out to spread the word among neighbors, but they face a somewhat unique situation, she said. Because it’s a new neighborhood, there aren’t many people living in it right now.
In fact, Basaran and her family won’t officially move there until October or so, whenever the home is finished, she said. This means it’s been somewhat difficult tracking down people who might have a vested interest in the matter, she said.
Thus far, they’ve found about 18 neighbors that have signed on to express concern, she said.
Even putting aside that complication, the couple has found jurisdictional issues tracking down who might be responsible for fixing the problem, she said.
Carol Ruiz, a spokesperson for Tri Pointe Homes, the developer behind the neighborhood, referred questions to Fort Bend County and Houston.
Calls to businesses listed on the gas station sign went unreturned as of Monday afternoon.
If the business is in the county, but not in city limits, there are no zoning requirements, but businesses must meet certain ordinances, including drainage, fire marshal, utility, water and sewer, said Tami Frazier, spokesperson for County Judge KP George.
The city of Houston, likewise, does not have zoning requirements.
That fact has led to a similar issues in a neighborhood in Houston’s Heights neighborhood, Tresaugue said. And Tresaugue had also heard of several other issues in the Clear Lake area of Houston, he said.
The city of Katy, which is listed on the neighborhood’s address, did not respond to a request for comment as of Monday afternoon.
Shortly after speaking with the Fort Bend Star, Basaran wrote in an email that she’s learned there’s little she can do to stop the gas station.
But she’s planning to work with county commissioners to pass legislation that might force cities to annex areas that currently fall under extra territorial jurisdiction, she said. The county doesn’t have stringent requirements for those areas, but cities might, she said.
“This will be more of a long-term thing, as legislation can only be passed at the next session in 2023,” she said.