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Council OKs annexing commercial area only

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 by Jo Clifton

Last year, at the urging of District 5 Council Member Ann Kitchen, City Council rejected annexation of a 34-acre tract of land in Southwest Travis County that is almost totally surrounded by the city of Austin.

On Thursday, Kitchen again argued successfully against the annexation of the residential section of the area. However, this time she agreed to annexation of the commercial properties in the addition, and a majority of her colleagues concurred.

The vote was 7-3 to annex the approximately five acres of commercial properties along Manchaca Road. Council members Jimmy Flannigan, Ellen Troxclair and Ora Houston voted no and Council Member Greg Casar was absent.

In a separate vote on annexing the entire area, only Council members Pio Renteria and Delia Garza joined Mayor Steve Adler and Mayor Pro Tem Kathie Tovo in voting for the motion.

Because people living in the 35 single-family homes in the Mooreland Addition have repeatedly expressed their desire not to be annexed, it was clear again on Thursday that if the area were annexed, Kitchen would be likely to gain more than 35 new and unwilling constituents.

Kitchen said she could not support annexation of the residential area because residents had expressed concerns about their cost of living going up as a result of having to pay city property taxes.

Tovo and Adler argued that residents of the area are using city services, such as roads and parks, so it is not fair to other taxpayers to allow some who are using the services not to pay.

During an October hearing on the matter, Adler explained, “We participate collectively to help provide affordable housing in the community and health and human services for people that live in the community libraries, municipal courts – and those are the kinds of things that don’t happen unless collectively a community joins to pay for the things … so I think that is one of the justifications for saying that everyone who lives here participates or helps to shoulder those things. I think that the justification for doing an annexation in an area like this is that the folks in your neighborhood, when you leave your immediate neighborhood, travel on city streets, there are city traffic lights, and as a community we all pitch in to pay for those things, and everyone who lives here, that travels on those streets, uses those traffic lights, pitches in.”

District 6 Council Member Flannigan, whose district includes people who have recently been annexed, disagreed. “I appreciate the concept that these people are accessing city services, but I think when you annex and you have to provide services to an area, I don’t think the math pencils out. I think what you end up with is the rest of the city subsidizing the new area of annexation because the vast majority of the costs are related to public safety. I just don’t think the math works.”

However, according to a memo from Greg Guernsey, director of the Planning and Zoning Department, “the Mooreland Addition area is entirely surrounded by the city’s full purpose jurisdiction and no capital improvements are required to serve the area, therefore, the estimated cost to provide city services to this area is negligible. No additional fire or police investment is needed to provide public safety response to the area. Additional revenues generated from enclave areas such as this will augment current revenues dedicated to providing city services in the area and surrounding areas.”

Speaking to Council at the meeting, Guernsey observed that if the residential area were not annexed, it would continue to operate under county rules, so that for example it would be legal to shoot off fireworks in that small area. The Travis County Sheriff’s Office would be responsible for dealing with criminal complaints, but it was not immediately clear whether the Austin Fire Department or one of the county’s emergency service districts would handle fire calls.

This is likely to be the city’s final annexation for quite some time because of a new state law that will go into effect on Dec. 1. In response to a question from Council Member Alison Alter, who observed that this is “a weird moment in time” for the Mooreland Addition residents, Guernsey responded that it is “a weird moment in time for staff,” because the addition was part of its 2016 annexation plan, but Council postponed the matter last year.

As Guernsey explained in the memo to Council, after Dec. 1, under state law the city must obtain approval from 50 percent or more of the landowners in an area proposed for annexation or 50 percent or more of the voters in the same area.

City staff has not yet developed a process for such annexations, Guernsey said. In his memo, he noted that “an annexation petition process has not been tested” by any cities similar to Austin. “Staff from multiple departments have been working to clarify steps and costs to administer and implement the process.”

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