Leander continues annexation process for north and west city borders

As the city of Leander proceeds with the annexation of properties on the cityu2019s north and west borders, several landowners have entered development agreements with the city to avoid immediate annexation.

As the city of Leander proceeds with the annexation of properties on the cityu2019s north and west borders, several landowners have entered development agreements with the city to avoid immediate annexation.

Updated Aug. 21 at 6:41 p.m. to include when the owners of annexed land will begin paying Leander property taxes.

Published Aug. 18 at 12:21 p.m.

As the city of Leander proceeds with the annexation of properties on the city’s north and west borders, several landowners have entered development agreements with the city to avoid immediate annexation.

AFFECTED ACREAGE


In July, City Council held two public hearings for the annexation of 4,937 acres of land on the city’s north and west borders, south of CR 280 and west of North Bagdad Road. The proposed annexations are involuntary, meaning the residents within the selected areas did not request to be annexed.

These citizens currently have property in Leander’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, which is the unincorporated area within 3.5 miles of city limits and subject to potential annexation of the city, according to Texas Local Government Code and city documents.

Now, after Leander entered development agreements with several landowners, the area subject to immediate annexation may be approximately 1,643 acres, according to city documents.

At meetings on Aug. 3 and Aug. 17, council approved several annexation development agreements between landowners and the city. Council members Michelle Stephenson and Troy Hill voted against the motion at both meetings.

By entering into the agreements, landowners postpone the annexation of their property for up to 45 years, depending on the specific terms of the agreement, Leander Assistant City Manager Tom Yantis said. At the end of the agreement, the land becomes open for renegotiation subject to laws relevant at that time, Yantis said.

City staff also recommended removal of a portion of the land previously slated for annexation, which was approved by council Aug. 3.

Development agreements still pending negotiations as of Aug. 17 will be brought before City Council at a future meeting, Yantis said. If approved by council, these agreements will exempt the property from annexation as well.

The final reading of the annexation ordinance for 1,643.04 acres not under development agreements was passed by council members Aug. 17, commencing full annexation of this land. This is within Leander’s legal limit for involuntary annexation, which Yantis previously said is 3,807 acres.

Annexed landowners will begin paying property taxes to the city January 2019, according to city spokesperson Michael Neu.

DEVELOPMENT AGREEMENTS


Leander Mayor Christopher Fielder said the city’s “goal isn’t to annex anybody,” but to enter agreements limiting development on land surrounding the city, unless a development fits the city’s policies.

“Annexation is a key to controlling future development,” Mayor Christopher Fielder said.

Fielder gave the example that without the city’s regulations, developers could build a meat processing plant next to a million-dollar home.

The first type of development agreement between the city of Leander and landowners postpones annexation of property used for agricultural or wildlife management, unless the landowner changes the use of the land. If land use changes, the city can annex the property and enforce its zoning laws, according to the meeting agenda packet.

The other form of development agreement also allows the city to govern what type of future development occurs on the land, according to Texas Local Government Code.

“You’re forcing them into agreements; it is wrong and I would just ask that you guys do the right thing, be responsible stewards of government,” Leander resident Skyler Williams said to City Council members at the Aug. 3 meeting. “Abandon these involuntary annexations—it’s stealing from people.”

Dr. Kathryn Kotrla—a resident with land subject to annexation—said she appreciated the way the city engaged in conversation with her throughout the annexation process.

“Thank y'all for entering into a dialogue with us about this property that means as much to me really as life itself,” she said. “We hope to continue working with the city."

The final annexation ordinance reading for areas B and D was read at the Leander City Council meeting Aug. 17.[/caption]

ANNEXATION REFORM


The Texas State Legislature passed municipal annexation reform during its special session. The legislation alters state municipal annexation policy to require voter approval before an unincorporated area is annexed by a city. Proponents of the bill say involuntary annexation infringes on property rights, while the opposition says it is a tool for growing cities and military operations.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill reforming municipal annexation policy, Senate Bill 6, on Aug. 15, according to Texas Legislature Online. This is too late to change the annexation process for residents subject to Leander’s current annexations, because the law goes into effect Dec. 1, 2017, according to Texas Legislature Online.

“I don’t think that it’s fair that you […] try to get the citizens to sign a contract before the Legislature has made a decision,” said Jacinda Johnson, a Cedar Park resident who attended the Aug. 3 meeting to speak against annexation. “Let the Legislature do their job and give these citizens a chance to decide to sign a contract.”

Chad Worley said his family owns a ranch with portions pending annexation by the cities of Leander and Lago Vista. The ranch has been in his family for 106 years, he said, and his family has had concerns about how annexation could affect their ability to use the land to run cattle and other purposes.

Worley told council members about the complications his family encountered while negotiating a development agreement with the city, including spelling errors on the official documents and issues scheduling meetings with city staff.

“I’ve been burdened with time, with stress and now money,” Worley said, referring to the cost of having the agreement reviewed by an attorney. “There’s got to be a better process to this. We can’t vote for y'all. Fundamentally y'all have to know that’s wrong.”

Council member Michelle Stephenson said she is against the involuntary annexation of property owners who said they did not want to be annexed.

“I do support the legislation that’s going through the legislature right now that they’re working on,” she said. “I think it gives the people in our ETJ voice in part of their destiny.”

Reporting contributed by Rebecca Fedorko/Community Impact Newspaper.
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