San Antonio Mayor Ivy Taylor, representing Bexar County’s largest city, and Mayor Al Suarez of Converse, which aspires to become the county’s second largest city, met at San Antonio City Hall Tuesday afternoon to put their signatures on a historic 17-year planning and annexation agreement.
The Inter-Local Agreement (ILA) between the two cities lays out a long-term development agreement that eventually has the City of San Antonio conveying more than $4 billion taxable property to Converse, which will triple its geographic size and population by annexing commercial corridors, neighborhoods, and undeveloped property that San Antonio deemed too expensive to absorb.
The agreement involves San Antonio ceding 12 square miles of unincorporated land in pockets of Bexar County along I-10 East near Loop 1604 East to Converse, home to more than 46,000 residents who will receive enhanced municipal services as they are absorbed into Converse in the coming years.
“It will ensure that over 46,000 residents in the area receive services that include law enforcement, fire protection, animal control, garbage collection, code enforcement, zoning, and other services,” Taylor said Tuesday, before signing the agreement alongside Mayor Suarez. “In addition, the I-10 East area is in close proximity to Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, which is a major employer and economic player in our entire region, and hence, it is important that Converse has agreed to regulate and manage growth and development in an area vital to military operations.”
San Antonio and Converse City Councils approved the proposed 17-year ILA in March. However, the agreement could be in jeopardy, as the Texas House Land & Resource Management Committee will hold a hearing on Wednesday, which includes several bills (House Bills 299, 424, 2272, and 2416) that would enable property owners in areas targeted for annexation to vote on the matter.
The City of San Antonio and the City of Converse, among others, oppose such legislation.
“The gist of it is that all these bills require a vote from people that could get annexed, and the City’s position is that we don’t think that’s necessary because it’s a benefit to the few at the expense of the many,” San Antonio’s Deputy City Manager Peter Zanoni told the Rivard Report. “The mayor of Converse went up to Austin and at least expressed opposition, which is good.”
State Sen. Donna Campbell (D-25) filed the Texas Annexation Reform Act, also known as Senate Bill 715, on Feb. 2. The bill protects property owners from involuntary annexation by requiring annexation consent from the majority of property owners in the area.
“It is simply wrong to force citizens who live outside the jurisdiction of a city to be absorbed as an exercise in government expansion designed to increase a city’s tax base,” Campbell stated. “The Texas Annexation Reform Act protects property owners from forced annexation and gives residents a greater say in what should be a more collaborative process.”
The Senate Committee on Intergovernmental Relations will hold a hearing on the bill Wednesday.
“House Bill 299 and Senate Bill 715, if passed, would take effect on Sept. 1, 2017 and they would apply to any annexation that has not been completed by that point,” Jeff Coyle, the City’s director of Government and Public Affairs, told the Rivard Report. “House Bill 424 starts on the same date but applies to annexation that hasn’t been started by that date.”
If the bills are passed, Suarez said, elections would have to be held every time an annexation is proposed.
“An election every year would be very harmful to Converse and the annexation plan due to voter apathy,” he said. “You’re looking at 5% of the vote making the decision. A lot of people want annexation but don’t get out to vote.”
Several residents and community groups who oppose annexation, including the Committee to Incorporate Alamo Ranch (CIAR), will be traveling to Austin Wednesday to testify before Senate and House committees in favor of the proposed legislation.
“The residents of Alamo Ranch are seeking the right to vote on involuntary annexation and there are several bills relating to annexation reform that would allow property owners in unincorporated Bexar County to vote on whether or not to become a part of the City of San Antonio. Let’s put it to a vote,” CIAR Chair Richard Cash stated Monday. “On April 10, 2015, we filed a petition to incorporate as our own city. To date, as we near the two-year anniversary, we have not heard anything from the City of San Antonio regarding our petition. We are praying for passage of annexation reform legislation.”
San Antonio Fire Department representatives, Zanoni, Coyle, and other City officials also will travel to Austin to testify against the State limiting the rights of cities to annex under the current law.
“We’re surprised by these changes, and that’s our concern right now,” Suarez said. “This is an unprecedented agreement that has been going on for a long time, and we based this annexation plan on current laws in Texas, which haven’t changed for a long time. We visited with our local representatives – Sens. José Menendez, Carlos Uresti, Donna Campbell, and Rep. Barbara Gervin-Hawkins – last week and they agree that any changes would be harmful.”
Through the ILA, San Antonio also will cede 3.6 square miles of commercial corridor to Converse, transferring $4 billion worth of property that will provide new tax revenues to offset the costs of delivering services to residents. The first phase of the timeline begins Dec. 31, with San Antonio turning over 1.29 square miles of territory to Converse. It includes part of Loop 1604, the North Hampton subdivision, and part of the Gibbs-Sprawl Road commercial corridor. To view the complete timeline, click here.
“San Antonio will also transfer ownership of North Hampton Park to Converse, and then Converse will have the ability to merge [that park] with the adjacent City of Converse park and develop a regional park for the area,” Taylor said.
Opponents of the agreement argued that Converse should focus on its current city limits to ensure that basic resources aren’t stretched to serve new properties. Advocates see the plan as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to shed landlocked boundaries and embrace community growth.
“My vision is for San Antonio to be a globally competitive city where everyone has the opportunity for prosperity, and we can’t do that if some people feel safe and secure and others don’t,” Taylor said.
In addition to increasing City services in affected areas, Zanoni said the deal helps direct future development in a careful way and protects Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph.
“Several bills proposed during this current legislative session appear to remove from local officials the ability to holistically address potential impacts to military training and operations caused by incompatible land uses in and around each of Joint Base San Antonio’s operating locations,” Brig. Gen. Heather L. Pringle stated in a Feb. 21 letter to Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick. “… Amending current Texas laws regarding extraterritorial jurisdiction and annexation … will make it more difficult for us to work with local officials in promoting compatible private land use within our community.”
The plan between the two cities is not aggressive annexation, Suarez explained.
“We’re talking about Camelot and those areas that haven’t had services for many years,” he said. “We made it to have revenue in place through the self-tax.”
Suarez hopes that if the annexation reform bills do pass, legislators will choose to “grandfather” existing annexation agreements, so there are no changes to the existing plan between Converse and San Antonio.
“We’ve been communicating with all the legislators in our delegation and we’re lucky to have Joe Straus in leadership up there, and we have our team up in Austin conveying the message that we want to be able to make our own decisions here locally,” Taylor said. “I don’t believe that in a state as big as Texas, that one size can fit all as far as all the different cities. So we want to be able to control our own destiny here in the San Antonio area.”