San Antonio’s new City Council voted unanimously Thursday to annex almost six square miles of mostly undeveloped land in southern Bexar County.

The annexation will help the City preserve existing land use and stave off undesired development in the mainly rural community, said Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran (D3), whose district will absorb the area. The land lies south of current city limits, south of Neal Road, west of Pleasanton Road, north of Loop 1604, and east of Applewhite Road. The area sits south of the Texas A&M-San Antonio campus and the Toyota assembly plant.

The annexation is slated to go into effect July 13.

Annexation reform is expected to be a hot topic when state lawmakers reconvene for a special session in July, so the City should be concerned about whether the State Legislature will further limit the ability of Texas cities to conduct annexation, Viagran said.

“One of the reasons we want to move forward with this is [so] that the State gives us authority to maintain land controls,” Viagran said.

City Planning Director Bridgett White said gaining the land would allow the City to place resource protections in the area near the Medina River and around part of the Land Heritage Institute’s nature preserve.

The annexation will extend full city services to the area, which will be served by Fire Station No. 50 and by the south police patrol substation. The net cost to the City serving the area would be $1.24 million over 20 years.

But several area residents objected to the annexation, with many saying the City did not give them enough time to become informed about the issue and that City staff should have done more to personally notify them.

City officials first notified affected property owners on April 20. One week later, they notified property owners eligible for a 10-year non-annexation agreement through an agricultural exemption. Nearly half of the property owners notified about the planned annexation opted to sign the development/non-annexation agreement.

“To say this process was rushed is an understatement,” said resident Cesar Herrera. “Two months isn’t long enough for people to understand and get information.”

Herrera noted opposition on the part of a few Planning Commission members when they considered the annexation in a May 24 meeting. The commission approved the annexation.

Other detractors said they were not aware they lived in San Antonio’s extraterratorial jurisdiction (ETJ) or were eyed for annexation.

Mike Rodriguez said there was a lack of communication with City staff, and that he had questions about the agricultural exemption and the proposed boundaries.

“The process has been fast and we haven’t been able to pull ourselves together,” he added.

Geneva Rodriguez said she, her family, and neighbors fear they will lose much when the City imposes its taxes and livestock regulations.

“We don’t want to have the city regulations,” she said. “We love the country life, the country setting.”

Viagran and other Council members said they understood residents’ questions and concerns.

Asked by Viagran how a delay would affect such an annexation, City Attorney Andy Segovia said a delay would force the City “to start from scratch” in notifying property owners and going through the mandated time limit of public hearings before the Council could reconsider annexation.

Councilwoman Shirley Gonzales (D5) said she typically would oppose annexation as it stretches the City’s already-thin resources. However, in the case of the Neal Road area, Gonzales agreed with Viagran: “It does seem we’re preserving land and allowing people to maintain their land use.”

New Councilmen John Courage (D9) and Greg Brockhouse (D6) pressed for a delay on the vote.

“Sixty days is an extremely short period of time for people who have lived there for years,” Courage said.

“I’m concerned with how we affect people and their pocketbooks,” Brockhouse said.

Councilwoman Ana Sandoval (D7) expressed fear that some affected residents may not be able to pay increased property taxes when the City annexes their land.

For an area home valued at $95,000, the City’s tax would add an annual average of $400 to a property taxpayer’s total bill, City officials noted.

Presiding over his first full regular Council meeting as mayor, Ron Nirenberg felt the area and the City both could benefit from annexation. He has previously taken a stance against annexation policies in other areas around town.

“This is fairly undeveloped land,” Nirenberg said of the Neal Road area. “I see this as entirely consistent with what the City wants to accomplish.”

Edmond Ortiz, a lifelong San Antonian, is a freelance reporter/editor who has worked with the San Antonio Express-News and Prime Time Newspapers.