Frisco City Council in late February started an involuntary annexation process of 38.1 acres west of Custer Road and south of Westridge Boulevard in the northeast part of the city after a developer came forward asking for verbal support from the council for a low-income apartment complex on nearly 5 acres of the land. Residents from Frisco and McKinney in neighborhoods near the ETJ area attended council meetings in protest, saying such a development would hurt property values.
More impetus for the involuntary annexation is that the same 38.1 acres also includes a recently built self-storage facility. City Director of Development Services John Lettelleir said it appears the building is in the right of way, which could affect the future widening of Westridge Boulevard.
"We are probably going to be taking a look at the ETJs and doing the annexation of those properties so we can minimize this from happening in the future," Lettelleir said. "The main thing is trying to prevent uses occurring in the ETJ that are noncompliant with the city's future land-use plan and to ensure that development that does occur complies with the city's standards."
The city does not have much remaining ETJ—only 1,373 acres remain in Collin and Denton counties.
City population determines the ETJ of a city. For a city of Frisco's size, the ETJ would normally automatically extend 5 miles from Frisco's city limits into unincorporated areas. However, Frisco's ETJ cannot expand because it is landlocked by the surrounding cities.
"We've been taking a look at [annexing the ETJ] for the past several years. It has just been on the back burner," Lettelleir said. "When [situations like the low-income apartment and self-storage facility] come up, you just wish you had it done."
Beyond approving platting agreements and enforcing utility standards, neither the city of Frisco nor the counties have authority to say what can or cannot be built on property in the city's ETJ.
"It's meant to be that way—that's the whole point of the unincorporated area," Collin County Judge Keith Self said. "You're allowed to build your $700,000 retirement home next to a farm—it's freedom. You retain far more of your property rights in the unincorporated part of the county."
Lettelleir said Frisco has included its ETJ in the future land-use plan, but without annexation, property owners are allowed to construct whatever they choose, whether residential or commercial.
The county has some limited control over construction in the ETJ. County Administrator Bill Bilyeu said the county has control over floodplain areas as well as wastewater lines for both commercial and residential construction. Commercial builders are held accountable for complying with the 2009 International Fire Code. No other permitting or inspecting is required for commercial construction, and no permitting or inspecting is required at all for residential construction, Bilyeu said.
Lettelleir said the lack of oversight in the ETJ can cause problems when the city decides to annex, as is the case with the proposed low-rent apartment complex at Custer Road and Westridge Boulevard. The city has no authority to stop the developers from moving forward with the project if they choose to do so.
"Even when we go forward with the annexation, we're not going to be able to change that process because they've already started it," he said.
Property owners in the ETJ are free to build as they see fit.
"In the unincorporated part of the county, there is very little zoning authority because the unincorporated area of the county is where you have maximum property rights and minimum zoning and inspection authority," Self said.
Lettelleir said the residents nearest to ETJ property have the most interest in how the ETJ is developed.
"For most [residents] it doesn't impact them or they don't care as much, unless they have a home immediately adjacent to the ETJ," Lettelleir said. "Because the city does not have land-use controls [in the ETJ], a lot of things could happen next door to their property. In that aspect the people that are closest to the ETJ, I would think they would want that property included in the city to ensure that it is developed per the city's standards and maintains property values."
Bryan Brickman, a Realtor with RE/MAX DFW Associates VI, said property built in the ETJ not up to city standards could affect the adjacent property values.
"A development built outside of single-family homes and even single-family homes built to lower-quality standards would have a negative impact on the existing homes that are built to Frisco standards," Brickman said. "The homes adjacent to the ETJ development would be most directly impacted in value, but the entire neighborhood could be impacted with longer market times and decreased value."
On the other side of the issue, Self said many property owners would rather be part of the unincorporated area because they are not subject to the city's more stringent permitting and inspection practices.
"It's going to be much more expensive if the city starts doing these building permits in the ETJ—several times more expensive, [once it is annexed]," he said.
Lettelleir said the city is dealing with property owners on both sides.
"You've got somebody that has lived in the city that made that investment, then you have somebody in the ETJ. Whose property rights supersede?" he said. "That's a hard challenge when you are in a property rights state. Everybody is for property rights until their neighbor does something they don't like."