Leander's largest involuntary annexation proceeds

The largest involuntary annexation in Leander history advanced through the public hearing process with minimal protest.

Four residents spoke out against the nine-tract, 1,289-acre proposed annexation during the Nov. 29 and Dec. 6 Leander City Council meetings. Each speaker had properties immediately north or south of FM 2243, where the land along the roadway was already annexed—leaving only the back portions of each property within Leander's extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, which the city can annex involuntarily if it deems necessary.

Jean Henthorne, who lives along the two-lane highway, said she was promised more city services via FM 2243 following the last annexation. Several years later, she said, there are still no fire hydrants nearby.

"I don't know why people promise things like that and don't do anything," Henthorne said to the council, which is unable to reply to her concerns during the public hearing process.

Ron Davis, Henthorne's next-door neighbor, echoed the same frustrations.

"I've seen too many cities offer these grandiose services and then fall short of delivering them in a timely manner," he said.

City Manager Kent Cagle said it is not customary to promise city services and utilities to newly annexed areas. Rather, such utilities are extended naturally as development occurs in those areas, he said.

City services aside, past involuntary annexations along Hero Way increased Merry Motley's taxes by $5,000, she told the council. Motley, co-owner of Northwest Austin/Leander KOV RV park between Hero Way and FM 2243, claimed she is among the few landowners in both annexations that do not benefit from an agriculture exemption—forcing her to pay the Leander city tax rate of 67.042 cents per $100 of property value rather than a cheaper rate based on the financial gain from any agricultural land. She estimates she'll pay an extra $7,000 in tax dollars annually now that the back end of her property is being annexed.

"I'm kind of concerned why you want to annex that sector when people can't afford these taxes at this time," she said. "Wait a year or two when things pick up."

But any further delay could prevent the city from dictating the type of development that occurs on Leander's ETJ land, Cagle said. Also, without any city control on the properties, development would not be required to abide by Leander ordinances, he said.

"Much of this land is ripe for development, and we want to fuel that development," Cagle previously said, estimating that much of the potentially annexed properties could be developed during the next two years.

Pastor Bob Brydon of Generations Church, located south of FM 2243 near Toll 183A, was the final resident to voice frustration over the forced annexation, explaining the church purchased the 33-acre property with the expectation it would remain outside Leander city limits. Now, because any improvements would require meeting city code, he said the church may reconsider long-term expansion plans.

"We built a water well, we're on septic—our whole master plan was designed to be on those systems," he told council, explaining a shift to city services would require adjusting the church's infrastructure.

The church will not be required to install a sprinkler system typically mandated by city ordinance, Cagle said, but all safety codes will still have to be met. Mayor Chris Fielder also directed Brydon to Leander staff members to help coordinate any conversion to city services.

First and second readings on the annexations will take place Jan. 3 and 17, respectively, at which point the council can take action on making the annexations official.

By Joe Lanane
Joe Lanane’s career is rooted in community journalism, having worked for a variety of Midwest-area publications before landing south of the Mason-Dixon line in 2011 as the Stillwater News-Press news editor. He arrived at Community Impact Newspaper in 2012, gaining experience as editor of the company’s second-oldest publication in Leander/Cedar Park. He eventually became Central Austin editor, covering City Hall and the urban core of the city. Lanane leveraged that experience to become Austin managing editor in 2016. He managed eight Central Texas editions from Georgetown to San Marcos. Working from company headquarters, Lanane also became heavily involved in enacting corporate-wide editorial improvements. In 2017, Lanane was promoted to executive editor, overseeing editorial operations throughout the company. The Illinois native received his bachelor’s degree from Western Illinois University and his journalism master’s degree from Ball State University.