House panel weighs bill re­quir­ing an­nex­a­tion vote,

House spon­sor says mea­sure pro­tects prop­erty rights.

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Tay­lor Gold­en­stein tgold­en­stein@states­man.com

A Texas House panel on Wed­nes­day heard tes­ti­mony from more than 50 peo­ple on a bill that would re­quire cities in large Texas coun­ties to get res­i­dents’ ap­proval be­fore an­nex­ing their prop­erty.

House Bill 6, a ver­sion of which passed in the Se­nate last week, is largely iden­ti­cal to a ver­sion that nearly passed in the reg­u­lar ses­sion but was blocked by a fil­i­buster.

Giv­ing res­i­dents a say in an­nex­a­tion is one of Gov. Greg Ab­bott’s top 20 special ses­sion pri­or­i­ties. No vote was taken Wed­nes­day.

“Forced an­nex­a­tion gives com­plete author­ity to the city, and no author­ity to the res­i­dents they’re an­nex­ing,” said bill spon­sor Rep. Dan Hu­berty, R-Hous­ton. “This bill ... en­sures prop­erty rights are pro­tected by al­low­ing those res­i­dents the right to vote.”

The bill would re­quire cities in coun­ties with pop­u­la­tions above 500,000 to hold an elec­tion and get res­i­dents’ ap­proval to an­nex ar­eas with more than 200 peo­ple. A city would have to cir­cu­late a pe­ti­tion for an­nex­a­tion in ar­eas with fewer than 200 res­i­dents and get sig­na­tures from more than half of the prop­erty own­ers.

Hu­berty also ad­dressed one of the most con­tentious ar­gu­ments against the bill: that an­nex­a­tion is nec­es­sary to pro­tect mil­i­tary bases from en­croach­ment by de­vel­op­ment, as many ur­ban Texas city of­fi­cials have tes­ti­fied. That issue kept Sen. José Menén­dez fil­i­bus­ter­ing the reg­u­lar ses­sion bill un­til its death.

Hu­berty said there are many other tools cities can use, such as con­ser­va­tion ease­ments, and said he re­sented the fact that the bases were be­ing used as po­lit­i­cal “pawns.”

Austin is in the process of an­nex­ing the western Travis County neigh­bor­hood of River Place. The area is set to be fully an­nexed in De­cem­ber, but some res­i­dents who op­pose the move are hop­ing the pas­sage of HB 6 could be their sav­ing grace.

“All ne­go­ti­a­tions with our MUD (mu­nic­i­pal util­ity dis­trict) board were not about if we were go­ing to be an­nexed but rather how and when,” River Place Home­own­ers As­so­ci­a­tion Pres­i­dent Steve Crosby said, re­fer­ring to the dis­trict’s “strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ment” with the city that lays out the terms of an­nex­a­tion.

Most of those who tes­ti­fied against the bill were of­fi­cials rep­re­sent­ing cities and coun­ties with on­go­ing an­nex­a­tion plans.

Among them was Vir­ginia Col­lier, the Austin city plan­ner in charge of an­nex­a­tion ef­forts, who ar­gued that the city should be in­cluded in an ex­emp­tion that al­lows most strate­gic part­ner­ship agree­ments to stand with­out a need to fol­low the bill’s elec­tion re­quire­ments.

“The city has ex­pended funds and re­sources in an­tic­i­pa­tion of an­nex­a­tion,” Col­lier said, adding in an in­ter­view that the city has spent about $2 mil­lion on wa­ter sys­tem im­prove­ments for River Place. “Should an­nex­a­tion not oc­cur as sched­uled, it is un­clear whether the city can re­coup th­ese in­vest­ments.”

RALPH BARRERA / AMER­I­CAN-STATES­MAN

House Land and Re­source Man­age­ment Com­mit­tee Chair Abel Her­rero (left), D-Cor­pus Christi, and Rep. Ce­sar Blanco, D-El Paso, lis­ten to pub­lic re­marks about House Bill 6 on Wed­nes­day. HB 6 would re­quire large cities to hold elec­tions on an­nex­a­tions to see if res­i­dents want to be an­nexed.

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