Georgetown City Council members are considering annexations of about 500 acres of land along Ronald Reagan Boulevard while a new Texas law has several city leaders concerned about how statewide annexation reform could affect planning on a local level.
The City Council began a process in August to annex three properties just north of Sun City into Georgetown city limits. Council members are expected to vote Sept. 26 on whether to approve the annexations, according to the city.
Public hearings in August regarding the proposed voluntary annexations garnered no comments, and the council voted unanimously to support the three annexation petitions on their initial readings.
Gov. Greg Abbott signed Texas Senate Bill 6 into law Aug. 15 to allow residents of unincorporated areas that are the target of an annexation to vote on whether the process can move forward. The law takes effect Dec. 1.
Georgetown City Manager David Morgan said city officials worry tighter state control over annexation decisions could make it more challenging to manage future city growth while maintaining congruent connections to utilities and police or fire service areas.
“Our concern with this is it will provide inefficiencies with government response in the future,” Morgan said.
Supporters of the new law have argued reform was necessary to protect the interests of Texans living just outside expanding cities.
SB 6 was sponsored by state Sen. Donna Campbell, R-New Braunfels. After the Texas Senate passed the bill July 26 during a special session of the 85h Legislature, Campbell described the outcome in statement as “a victory for the property rights of all citizens.”
State Rep. Paul Workman, R-Austin, said in an Aug. 15 news release that reform was overdue.
“For far too long, large municipalities have been annexing property without the owners’ consent, forcing them to pay higher taxes for services they oftentimes do not want,” Workman said. “Large cities will no longer be able to run roughshod over the people through forced annexation.”
Although criticism was targeted at larger metro areas, Georgetown Mayor Dale Ross said he worries smaller Texas cities could become “collateral damage” of the new law if it makes future economic growth more challenging, he said.
Ross said Georgetown has grown over the past decade strictly through voluntary annexations, and he believes city officials have done a good job handling expansions of city limits while respecting property rights.
“The city of Georgetown doesn’t have annexation issues. People come to us who want to be annexed,” Ross said. “This (law) seems like a solution in search of a problem.”
State-mandated limits on annexations could make long-range planning for cities more challenging, Georgetown Planning Director Sofia Nelson said.
From a city-planning perspective, the annexation process provides an opportunity to guide a city’s growth and what types of development it might be able to attract in the future, Nelson said.
As Georgetown has expanded its boundaries and population, the city has relied mainly on voluntary annexations rather than involuntary processes, Nelson said.
Morgan said one challenge planners have faced as Georgetown’s boundaries have grown involves avoiding so-called “doughnut holes”—neighborhoods and other areas that fall within the city but have not formally been annexed and are not part of the city’s tax base.
Nelson said Georgetown City Council has directed planning staff to develop a five-year annexation plan as part of its work on updating the city’s comprehensive plan, which is expecting to happen in 2018. Setting local policy for annexations should help the city work better with landowners and private developers, particularly with the change to state law, Nelson said.
Municipalities in Williamson County have sought to grow their boundaries through both voluntary and involuntary annexation processes.
Helen Ramirez, the executive director of business and development services for the city of Hutto, said it has been the practice of Hutto City Council to only annex property through voluntary annexations.
“Many of the voluntary annexations they are taking part in is because they have already signed annexation development agreements; we are now seeing that those are the landowners that are actively marketing property and are ready to develop,” she said.
Ramirez said the city does not currently have an annexation plan, but officials have identified future growth areas.
Pflugerville Assistant City Manager Trey Fletcher said Pflugerville exercises annexation powers to further the objectives of the city and to secure future areas of growth and a future tax base.
“As a result of extending city limits, you extend the rules and our zoning—plus more control over land use,” Fletcher said.
Brad Wiseman, director of planning and development for the city of Round Rock, said the majority of Round Rock annexations in the past two decades have been voluntary, but the city has also exercised some involuntary annexations. He said involuntary annexations can become contentious when a city chooses to annex a property against the will of the property owner.
With the new law taking effect in December, Nelson said Georgetown planning staff will be a primary source of guidance and information for the council as it moves forward with growth and annexation-related decisions.
“City staff is still getting up to speed on the (new) annexation law and what our opportunities will be moving forward,” Nelson said. “From a planning standpoint, getting up to speed on this new law is our top priority.”
Additional reporting by Emily Donaldson