Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.
Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.

For the City of San Antonio, the question remains: to annex or not to annex? The recently released SA Tomorrow plan draft, a massively unwieldy 900-plus pages, offers no answer to the politically contentious question.

SA Tomorrow, the signature initiative of Mayor Ivy Taylor, is broken into three draft reports that contain guidelines, priority suggestions, and policy recommendations, but it’s up to City Council to boil it all down to an action plan. Originally scheduled for a Council vote in June, that timeline has been pushed back until August 11 at the request of the Planning Commission and the preference of Council members who want to read the tomes and reach their own conclusions about the priorities the plan sets for the 2017 bond, future budgets, and Unified Development Code updates.

City officials told the Rivard Report that they are not expecting any major changes to the draft plan.

“San Antonio can develop a comprehensive approach to annexation that is consistent with growth forecasts and that ensures newly annexed residents receive the same level of service as current residents – without creating undue burdens on the city,” the plan states. Finding that balance will be up to the Council.

Baseline studies performed by independent consultants for the City and working groups that developed the three-pronged plan – which includes Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation and Comprehensive plans – analyzed the City’s annexation plans with the understanding that the push for greater infill development isn’t going to stop continuing sprawl that places growing stress on the City’s utility and public safety services.

(Click the following links to download full copies of the draft plans: Sustainability, Multimodal Transportation and Comprehensive.)

“Even though (SA Tomorrow) is advocating for infill development, we know development is going to happen outside (Loop) 1604. It’s a given,” said Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni after City Council members were briefed Wednesday. “While the Council can guide direction of growth, we have to plan for both (infill and suburban growth).”

Council will take up the annexation issue and its options on June 15 when it reviews conflicting reports on the pros and cons of annexation.

City staff originally proposed annexation of 66 square miles, most of it outside Loop 1604, by the end of 2016 (see map above). Those plans were delayed after concerns were expressed by residents, Mayor Ivy Taylor, and other stakeholders. Tech Bloc, an advocacy group that burst on to the political scene last summer and will celebrate its first anniversary in June with a high profile event at the Tobin Centre for the Performing Arts, commissioned an independent study that produced far more pessimistic financial projections than the City’s report. Both were released earlier this year.

Tech Bloc’s study, performed by HR&A Advisors, strongly cautions against annexation and aggressively challenged the City’s optimistic financial assumptions resulting from annexation.

“(The City’s analysis) may moderately underestimate costs associated with annexation; it is likely to significantly overestimate revenue associated with annexation; and it does not sufficiently evaluate the risk of downside scenarios,” the report stated.

The report goes on to state that the City’s assumption of growth in suburban areas is “far from certain” as more citizens, particularly Millennials, demand more sustainable urban lifestyle options.

“Affluent professionals are increasingly choosing to live in central cities rather than suburban communities,” the report states.

Zanoni and others point to this as one of the flaws of the study. “Nationally that could be the case, but in San Antonio we don’t see that being true,” he said. City policies now accommodate continuing sprawl, and do not hold developers financially accountable for so-called “greenfield development” or offer aggressive incentives for infill development. The result? While infill development continues to pick up, suburban sprawl and its cost continues apace. SA Tomorrow calls for enhanced incentives for infill development.

The City’s study was performed by The PFM Group. Click here to download Tech Bloc report and here for the City report.

The City expects that, even if the annexation plan is carried out, 60% of development in the next 25 years will be inside Loop 1604, concentrated in regional centers. Yet 40% of the 1.1 million new residents expected by 2040 will settle outside Loop 1604, Zanoni said, although he didn’t address whether changing incentives could alter that outcome. “We couldn’t fit a million people in the city.”

The SA Tomorrow’s draft Comprehensive plan suggests the City “should reexamine the existing priority annexation areas. The current priority annexation areas seem to be the logical areas for continued annexation. However, they should be revisited to ensure they match with the revised policy and goals developed through SA Tomorrow and consider the priorities of the City for annexation.”

This revision process has already begun, Zanoni said, and will be presented to Council during its June 15 meeting.

Top image: Map of proposed annexation areas in the SA Tomorrow Comprehensive Plan draft.  

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Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...