Zoning change allows plant expansion

In Manvel, News by Reporter News

Manvel city council approved a change in the zoning ordinances on 103.114 acres located at 22102 State Hwy 6. The property sets just west of CR 99 on the south side of Hwy 6. The southern boundary is marked by the railroad tracks that parallel County Road 190, also referred to as Old Manvel Road. The rezoning changes the designation of the property from light commercial to heavy commercial with a Specific Use Permit. The property currently is the site of a chemical plant that was established in Manvel in 1983. A multi-national manufacturing group based in Hamburg, Germany, Halteman Carless Solutions (HCS Group), recently purchased the plant and intends to establish its United States headquarters in Manvel.

The existing plant utilizes approximately 10 acres from a 100+ acre parcel. The company requested council authorize the zoning change so that improvements and expansion to the plant can be undertaken in the years to come. The new owners believe the current operation can be made more productive and projects a doubling of its output through more efficient processes. Additional capacity will be added to the site with a new state of the art plant utilizing another 20 or so acres. Plans presented to council include an initial investment of more than $15 million through 2018 “into significant beautification of the Manvel site and an upgrade of its safety and security measures.” All current employees will retain their positions and plans call for the hiring of additional skilled workers with a realization of “more than a 50% increase of employees within two years.”

Renderings of the planned improvements show the removal of the current support structures to be replaced with a new building that will house the various administrative and support functions. A row of trees and landscaping is envisaged along the SH 6 frontage as well as new fencing and gates. An attractive sign is planned for one of the entrance gates that will identify the Manvel plant. Longer term, the new company envisions the offering of appropriate infrastructure on the remaining 60-70 acres that would support a chemical park; the intention being to attract additional investors to establish operations on the site. At a recent presentation to city council a spokesman for the company describes the timeline to begin the initial beautification and improvements as “yesterday.”

Some see the planned improvements and expansion of the plant as a boon to the city’s economic development as Manvel would see increased employment opportunities and improved tax receipts. A healthy city economy requires a diversification of its tax base and as Manvel grows it will require industrial and commercial properties to help fund the expansion and on-going maintenance of city infrastructure. Relying disproportionately on single family homeowners to fund city coffers will in time result in necessarily higher tax rates to pay for desired city services. Industrial and commercial property on the tax rolls would help significantly in easing the burden on residential property owners. In addition, larger commercial businesses often bring a level of philanthropy to its home city that otherwise it likely would not have available.

Not all are encouraged, however. Neighboring property owners across the railroad tracks on CR 190 appeared before council at its recent public hearing to express concern of noise and light pollution and an increase in truck traffic resulting from the expanded plant. One citizen expressed fears that the plant expansion would encourage others to establish plant operations in Manvel, transforming it to an industrial magnet like the areas around the Houston Ship Channel. Some expressed support of the initial improvements and plant expansion but were opposed to the development of the additional acreage to house a business park as described by the new owners. Sue Schwartz, the former owner of Shu-Chem Holdings that was acquired by the HCS Group, answered some of the concerns saying there are no plans to add a railroad spur to service the plant or the business park project and assured the complainants that there would be no access from the property to CR 190 because of the existing railroad tracks. A representative from HCS Group told the group that the plant will not contain the large tanks and stacks as seen at larger plants and speculated that the structures will be difficult to see at all once the landscaping and fencing improvements are in place.

Council supported the change by a 6-1 vote. Melody Hanson was opposed explaining that she has no problem with the initial improvements and plant expansion but ‘just don’t like rezones, especially when they go heavy commercial. I like a buffer between residents and heavy commercial and I think many of the homeowners do as well. For that reason it does not have my support.”

HCS Group is one of the world’s oldest and leading global providers of solutions for high-value specialty hydrocarbons and sells to more than 90 countries worldwide. The current company evolved from two German companies formed in the mid to late 1800’s. One of those companies is credited with the creation of a petroleum distillate named “petrol” which established the fuel as a generic name still used today in European countries. Each of the two companies were eventually acquired by multi-national corporations in the early 2000’s, one by Repsol Group and one by Dow Chemical. The two companies ultimately morphed into the current HCS Group in 2011.

HCS Group boasts a diverse portfolio of more than 400 products and blends in seven business lines and utilizes a business model based on high flexibility. That diversity helps the company realize steady earnings that are resistant to economic cycles. Included in their product lines are oil and gas products used for chemical processing, heating oil, and kerosene; middle distillates used in mining and drilling, and the process and offset printing industries; special aromatics and performance solvents used in electronics, and agro-chemical and pharmaceutical applications; automotive products such as brake fluids, anti-freeze, and fuel additives; performance fuels used in automobile racing and aerospace applications; and pentanes used in the production of various types of building insulation products, refrigeration, and cosmetics. HCS Group also offers a line of renewable products that serve to reduce the CO2 footprint and to fulfill the increasing expectations of sustainability.

HCS Group prides itself on its safety record. Each of their facilities are fully ISO certified and the company is committed to the safety and health of its workers and a minimal environmental impact on the communities in which they operate. The company claims no incidents at any of its sites for more than two years and boasts one of its plants has been accident free for more than seven years. Their accident history is described as “way below the chemical company average.”

The company currently operates five plants in Europe and employs 420 workers. Sales offices are located in Germany, the UK, Belgium, and in South Carolina. The South Carolina sales and operations staff will be relocated to Manvel once the merging of the two companies is complete. Sales in 2014 were more than $670 million.

Shu-Chem holdings was established in Manvel in 1983. The plant currently produces alcohols and ester products used in the pharmaceutical and printing industries. CEO Schwartz expects the integration of her company into the HCS Group to “secure the company’s competitiveness and future viability (and) will enable us to create the conditions for further growth and innovation.”

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