Wednesday, November 11, 2015 by Tyler Whitson

Council denies land annexation in contentious vote

In an unusual and potentially precedent-setting move, City Council voted 6-4 at a Tuesday work session not to annex a piece of land into the city limits, despite staff’s recommendation to do so.

Although the land is bordered on three sides by the city of Austin, resident Tim Hess said that all of its residents are opposed to annexation. “Regardless of policy, sometimes people – i.e., the city – need to kind of revisit policy and see if it makes sense, especially when you have 100 percent of the property owners totally opposed to it,” Hess told the Austin Monitor.

Virginia Collier, principal planner for the Planning and Zoning Department, told the Monitor that she does not know of any past instances in which Council has voted against an annexation recommendation, although there have been cases in the past five years in which it has scaled back proposals from full- to limited-purpose annexation.

Council Member Ora Houston made the motion to deny the annexation, which Council Member Don Zimmerman seconded. They were joined by Council Members Sheri Gallo, Leslie Pool, Pio Renteria and Ellen Troxclair in support of the motion.

Mayor Steve Adler, Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo and Council Members Greg Casar and Delia Garza voted against the motion to deny annexation. Council Member Ann Kitchen was absent.

“At the end of the day,” Adler said, “I just don’t think that, from a policy standpoint, this should be a popular vote or that we should send the message to Central Texas that we’re going to annex if it’s popular, we’re not going to annex if it’s not popular or we’re going to annex if it’s 100 percent of the vote versus 90 percent of the vote versus 51 percent of the vote.”

The 83-acre parcel in Northern Travis County is south of the intersection of Old Lampasas Trail and Talleyran Drive and runs along the edges of Council districts 6 and 10. It is home to six single-family residences on large lots, a church, a ranchette and an electrical substation. Most of the land is in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction, although one lot is in its limited purpose jurisdiction.

The land is also located near the Balcones Canyonland Preserve, and a considerable chunk of it is governed by deed restrictions designed to protect the environment.

Council also approved nine annexations recommended by staff and another on a tentative basis on a 10-0 vote with Troxclair abstaining on one of the full approvals and Kitchen absent. All of the fully approved annexations were either supported or not opposed by residents, and the tentative approval is pending a development agreement.

Hess said that residents are opposed to annexation because they don’t feel that the city has properly followed through with its environmental regulations on nearby properties that it has annexed in the past, particularly those that are upstream of the adjacent Bull Creek.

Hess cited, as an example, the fact that the city has not yet spent about $12,000 that it has available to build a detention pond and erosion controls on the previously annexed Overlook at Bull Creek development north of his property.

Sylvia Arzola, a spokeswoman for the Development Services and Planning and Zoning departments, told the Monitor that the engineer for the development has not submitted the necessary subdivision plan for the project to move forward.

Adler noted that, despite the opposition, the item that was ultimately struck down met all of the qualifications for annexation. “It’s so that we could apply zoning and development standards, so we could protect and expand the tax base, so we could maximize the return on the city’s investments, so that we could create efficiencies in service delivery,” he said.

Houston argued against the idea of taking land from unwilling residents. “City policy is not always fair, nor is it equitable,” she said. “Sometimes if it’s wrong, we have to say it’s wrong – and I think this one is wrong.”

Zimmerman, an outspoken critic of unwilling annexation, argued that Council should have the “consent of the governed” before moving forward on such measures and that annexing the properties could present a liability to the city in the future if Bull Creek were to become flood-prone.

Pool said she agreed with Houston’s statement about deviating from policy when that policy does not seem appropriate. “I have not heard anything compelling from staff to argue that we should move on this case at this time,” she said. “I don’t know why we don’t wait for another two years or five years and think about it then.”

Collier explained that denying the annexation does not prevent staff from proposing the annexation again or Council from approving it in later years, which leaves the door open for a sequel of the contentious discussion in the future.

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Key Players & Topics In This Article

Austin City Council: The Austin City Council is the body with legislative purview over the City of Austin. It offers policy direction, while the office of the City Manager implements administrative actions based on those policies. Until 2012, the body contained seven members, including the city's Mayor, all elected at-large. In 2012, City of Austin residents voted to change that system and now 10 members of the Council are elected based on geographic districts. The Mayor continues to be elected at-large.

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