San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 8th, 2009
Kyle council hears annexation concerns

Kyle City Councilmembers Michelle Lopez, left, and Lucy Johnson, right, listen as local residents discuss a city annexation plan. Photo by Lance Duncan.

By LANCE DUNCAN
News Reporter

KYLE — An annexation plan that would fill holes in Kyle’s city limits and increase the city’s geographical foot print by about one-third packed the city council chambers last week as interested area residents wondered how the changes would affect them.

So large was the turnout to the city council meeting that city staff took down the divider between the chambers and the Minerva Falcon Community Room to accommodate the crowd. Many of those attending came from any of the 19 small areas being brought from the extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) to the city limits under the plan.

Most of the areas are already bounded by Kyle on two or three sides. City officials have said the annexation makes sense from a planning and service perspective. For example, according to city officials, the Kyle Police Department (KPD) has often taken calls outside of the city limits because it’s not obvious that those areas aren’t in the city.

The annexations would greatly increase the city’s area, adding 5.59 square miles to 17.38 square miles already existing. But the annexations would not extend the city’s boundaries, as the lands proposed for annexation already are inside the outer borders.

As a city with more than 25,000 people (the city now is using 27,310 as its figure), Kyle can maintain two miles of extra-territorial jurisdiction outside its city limits, according to state legislation. The city can annex the equivalent of ten percent of its city limits per year and can “bank” that amount indefinitely, meaning it could, for example, go two years between annexations, then take in 20 percent of its area.

However, having banked its annexation privileges, the city can actually annex no more than three years worth in any one year.

Such annexations, which do not require the approval of the land owners, are called “involuntary” or “city initiated” annexations. The city can annex an unlimited amount of property contiguous with its city limits when the land owners request annexation.

Most of the proposed annexation would occur east of Interstate-35, including large tracts on either side of Dacy Lane and another large tract at the southeast intersection of Lehman Road and Bunton Lane.

The annexation also would take in Thunderhill Raceway on the city’s south end. On the west of I-35, the city would take in land on the north frontage of Opal Lane.

Before the city can annex any of the property, it must first notify the landowners affected and allow for public comment.

The annexation near Opal Lane drew the biggest reaction from residents. “Area 13” on the city’s proposed annexation map includes the north side of Opal Lane and the east side of Old Stagecoach Road.

Dennis Rhodes, a resident of that area, said he doesn’t oppose the annexation, but would like to participate in the city’s plan to develop the area. Rhodes said a safe, quality community already operates in the area.

Ownership and management for the Winfield Inn, located on Scott Street southwest of downtown, worried that annexation could disrupt the inn’s business. Winfield Inn owner Tom Atkinson was especially worried about having to live with the city’s standard noise ordinance if his business is brought into the city limits. Atkinson said wedding ceremonies at the inn often last past 11 p.m., more than an hour after the city’s noise ordinance comes into effect.

“We bring thousands of people to Kyle every month,” Winfield Inn wedding coordinator April Pruet said. Pruet added that many people discover Kyle for the first time because of the Winfield Inn, and that the noise ordinance would ruin their business.

Councilmember Michelle Lopez said the Winfield Inn situation could be resolved without changing the noise ordinance. Lopez called the inn a “gem” and acknowledged its contributions to Kyle.

Longtime area resident Gerald Sepress said he was “blindsided” by the news of the annexation, adding that he’s not convinced that the city’s stated benefits, including drainage improvements, would make the new taxes worthwhile. Sepress also questioned the city’s motives for the annexation.

“I can see the city raising my appraisal and dipping deeper into my pockets,” he said.

As the city attempts the annexation, it also is in the process of approving its second double-digit property tax rate increase in two years. The city council is looking at approving an ad valorem tax rate of 48.58 cents per $100 of taxable value, up from 37.31 cents in Fiscal Year 2009. If the city takes on additional projects, especially if voters approve the debt issue for an $18-20 recreation center next May, that tax rate could approach 70 cents for FY 2011.

Local vegetable farmer Tim Miller said that he is opposed to the number of trees that would be killed in the process of putting a new water line down Opal Lane. Miller said the water line seems designed to appease developers as “a needed puzzle piece to their future subdivision.”

Miller said Kyle has no ordinance to protect local trees, and that developers have bulldozed to their hearts’ content when creating new subdivisions. Miller added that he is working on a tree ordinance for the city and urged the council to protect Opal Lane by passing a tree ordinance, putting in roundabouts, and not allowing the water line project.

Kyle resident Lila Knight spoke out about the annexations in general, saying she is surprised that the city’s economic development committee would recommend annexation as a priority. Knight said this is an interesting time to annex, since the city can “barely pay for the existing services that they provide.” She added that residents would expect the city to “do something” with its new parts territory, rather leave it as is.

Knight said the city should wait before annexing and give people more input into the process.

“It’s rude to bring them in at a time when you’re raising taxes dramatically,” Knight said.

Former Kyle Councilmember Ruben Regalado said he doesn’t oppose the annexation, but said that “it’s about courtesy,” and urged the council to invite people to join the city. He said that they should be asked, rather than dragged in. However, Regalado said he understands the city’s reasons for annexation, saying “I don’t know if this is the time, but I know you have the need.”

Kyle Mayor Mike Gonzalez responded that the city is not annexing to generate revenue.

“We’re not getting revenue by doing this annexation,” Gonzalez said. “It will cost us money.”

Gonzalez said the annexation is primarily about improving roads, lest many planned roads would “come to a dead end, and not make sense.”

Said Gonzalez, “It’s a comprehensive planning tool more than anything else.”

Gonzalez also said the areas being proposed for annexation are not finalized, and that it wouldn’t make sense for Kyle to annex all of the areas that are being proposed.

Lopez said she appreciates hearing from all sides on the issue, and requested that notes from the meeting be put on the city’s website for further review.

Her sentiments were mirrored by Councilmember David Salazar, who said he was happy to see so many people turning out and having the courage to talk to the council about the planning process.

Salazar added that Gonzalez is correct that the annexations are being driven from a planning perspective, but added that the contributions of citizens within Kyle’s ETJ are important to the discussion.

“These people are part of our community,” Salazar said. “Their kids go to school with our kids.”

Councilmember David Wilson said that the cost of maintaining the roads proposed for annexation should be addressed before the next public hearing, adding that a forthcoming comprehensive plan meeting on Sept. 24 would be a good opportunity for communication between the city and residents within its ETJ.

Councilmember Lucy Johnson said she also wants to see cost estimates for the new expenses brought on by the potential annexations to Kyle.

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