Section of City of San Antonio Annexations by decade map.
Section of City of San Antonio Annexations by decade map.

The City of San Antonio will move from the nation’s seventh largest city to the fifth largest with a population of 1.7 to 1.8 million by 2020, according to John Dugan, the City’s planning director, if City Council adopts the staff’s recommended annexation strategy.

Dugan told City Council in a Wednesday briefing that staff is recommending the annexation by December 2015 of five “priority areas” along five key freeways and highways that total 66 square miles and are currently home to 140,000 people. Annexing these five fast-growing areas, Dugan said, would add 200,000 new residents to the city’s population by 2020.

“Basically, we are looking at strategies to promote economic growth … and avoid infiltration of competing cities,” Dugan said.

Annexation 360 priority areas

San Antonio passed Dallas and San Diego in the 2010 census, moving from the ninth to the seventh largest city. If Dugan’s projections hold, the city would pass Phoenix and Philadelphia by 2020, and rank only behind New York, Los Angeles, Chicago and Houston on the list of Top 10 U.S. Cities.

Bexar County’s population will continue to grow, too, of course. Even so, San Antonio’s rank as a Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) will be far behind Dallas, the country’s fourth largest MSA, and Houston, the fifth largest. San Antonio currently is the 25th-largest MSA and will remain outside the Top 20 MSAs in the 2020 U.S. Census under current growth projections.

Annexation, however, isn’t about the city’s national rank on listings as much as it is capturing areas of population growth and economic development in the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. With only limited control of such areas now, annexation would allow San Antonio to fill in the missing pieces of a larger jigsaw puzzle, and align city services and tax collections, and in some cases, prevent neighboring cities from capturing that growth.

Dugan said none of the five priority areas could be targeted by nearby cities, but a failure to annex would probably lead to the creation of a new incorporated city around the Alamo Ranch area north of Texas 151 and Loop 1604.

When the City began studying annexation for the first time in more than a decade under then-Mayor Julián Castro, City staff identified 30 study areas within a five-mile radius of the city limits. Dugan told Council that the list has been reduced to five priority areas, along I-1o West, east of Boerne; along 281 North, south of Bulverde; on I-10 East; along Hwy. 151 to the northwest; and to the southwest around the intersection of Hwy. 90 and Loop 1604.

The annexation decision will be made by Council in December. If approved, the process of public hearings, fiscal analysis, zoning studies, and other proceedings would lead to an official annexation in December 2015. The City would then have three years to extend all services to the newly annexed areas.

Annexation 360 timeline and next steps

State law limits cities to annual annexations of 10% or less of their geographic size. San Antonio currently measures just under 480 square miles, Dugan said, so the annexation of 66 square miles would occur over a two-year time period.

Mayor Ivy Taylor asked Dugan how the staff’s annexation proposal squares with the comprehensive planning initiative she launched two months ago. Would they conflict or complement one another? Dugan said annexation is comprehensive short-term planning, while Taylor’s initiative explores how to plan for the next 25 years.

District 9 Councilmember Joe Krier asked what would happen if the City does nothing. Dugan said Bexar County’s unincorporated population, which now stands at 300,000, would grow to 500,000 and people would demand service that the City could not afford to deliver without an expanded tax base. The City would realize a net gain of $70 million a year in property and sales tax revenues with the proposed annexation, Dugan said, after accounting for annexation and service expansion costs.

“We probably would face the potential incorporation of a new town around Alamo Ranch area, and we’d have less control over development around the freeways, which are the gateways to the city,” Dugan added.

“On the flip side,” Krier noted, the City would not face the expense of expanding police and fire protection to the areas, or adding parks, libraries and other core services.

*Featured/top image: Section of City of San Antonio annexations by decade map.

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Robert Rivard

Robert Rivard is co-founder and columnist at the San Antonio Report.