Res­i­dents to de­cide if 2 ar­eas will join the city

San Antonio Express-News (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Josh Baugh STAFF WRITER

For thou­sands of peo­ple liv­ing in Bexar County near Camp Bullis and Lack­land AFB, the out­come of propo­si­tions on Tues­day’s bal­lot will de­ter­mine whether they’ll be­come San An­to­ni­ans or stay county res­i­dents.

The bal­lot mea­sures ask vot­ers to de­cide whether the city should be al­lowed to an­nex ar­eas within 5 miles of Lack­land, with power to col­lect “fines, fees and other charges” and, even­tu­ally, pro­vide ser­vices and as­sess taxes.

Even if vot­ers re­ject the city’s an­nex­a­tion plan, San An­to­nio still will have the author­ity to en­force cer­tain land-use reg­u­la­tions on new de­vel­op­ment sur­round­ing the mil­i­tary fa­cil­i­ties.

“We view all of this as a win-win sce­nario be­cause the ex­ist­ing res­i­dents in those ar­eas get a choice,” said Jeff Coyle, di­rec­tor of gov­ern­ment and pub­lic af­fairs for the city. “Ei­ther op­tion they choose, the city will still have the abil­ity to reg­u­late fu­ture de­vel­op­ment there.”

Not ev­ery­one agrees it’s win-win.

The Home­own­ers Against An­nex­a­tion is fight­ing the propo­si­tions, cit­ing con­cerns the city could start im­pos­ing fines for myr­iad rea­sons. And state Sen. Donna Camp­bell, R-New Braun­fels, who wrote the leg­is­la­tion that al­lows for the an­nex­a­tion vote, chal­lenged San An­to­nio’s bal­lot lan­guage — un­suc­cess­fully.

Be­fore last year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion, it was much eas­ier for big cities to an­nex bor­der­ing ar­eas. They faced cer­tain lim­i­ta­tions and reg­u­la­tions, but ul­ti­mately could add ter­ri­tory with­out the con­sent of the peo­ple who lived there.

That changed in 2017, when the Leg­is­la­ture adopted Camp­bell’s Se­nate Bill 6, which re­quires cities in coun­ties with more than 500,000 res­i­dents to se­cure voter ap­proval of pro­posed an­nex­a­tions.

The bill in­cluded a pro­vi­sion that al­lows cities to ex­tend their land-use ordinances to ar­eas within 5 miles of mil­i­tary bases, even if vot­ers there re­ject an­nex­a­tion.

Tues­day’s elec­tion af­fects 18,780 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing 15,039 regis­tered vot­ers, in an area along In­ter­state 10 near Camp Bullis, and 40,205 res­i­dents, in­clud­ing 25,932 regis­tered vot­ers, in an area west of Lack­land AFB.

Coyle said Tues­day’s elec­tion will be a win for San An­to­nio, be­cause even if votes re­ject an­nex­a­tion, the city will be able to pro­tect the mil­i­tary bases from en­croach­ment by res­i­den­tial and com­mer­cial de­vel­op­ment.

If unchecked, such en­croach­ment could ham­per the bases’ abil­ity to op­er­ate.

Coyle ac­knowl­edged that San An­to­nio of­fi­cials had wanted to an­nex these ar­eas for other rea­sons be­fore the Leg­is­la­ture made hold­ing an elec­tion a re­quire­ment.

“Mil­i­tary pro­tec­tion was one of the rea­sons for the pre­vi­ous an­nex­a­tion plans,” he said. “There were oth­ers, such as the abil­ity to plan the fu­ture growth.”

If vot­ers ap­prove an­nex­a­tion, it could take up to three years be­fore they be­gin pay­ing prop­erty taxes and re­ceiv­ing city ser­vices, but the city would im­me­di­ately have author­ity to im­pose fines and fees, ac­cord­ing to the bal­lot lan­guage.

If vot­ers re­ject an­nex­a­tion, the city would have author­ity to as­sess fines and en­act land-use ordinances rec­om­mended un­der a “Joint Land Use Study” con­ducted by the city and the mil­i­tary.

Camp­bell ob­jected to the city’s bal­lot lan­guage in an Au­gust let­ter to Texas At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ken Pax­ton, ask­ing his of­fice to is­sue an opin­ion on the le­gal­ity of the lan­guage.

Dis­miss­ing her con­cerns, Pax­ton re­sponded that courts would “likely con­clude” that San An­to­nio’s bal­lot lan­guage was “suf­fi­cient.”

Mike Stew­art, pres­i­dent of the Home­own­ers Against An­nex­a­tion, has filed a law­suit chal­leng­ing the city’s an­nex­a­tion plans and con­tend­ing the bal­lot lan­guage is vague and con­fus­ing. Courts have not acted on the mat­ter.

Stew­art, who lives in the I-10 cor­ri­dor north­west of San An­to­nio, said he and his neigh­bors have many of the same goals as the city: lim­it­ing in­tru­sive light, noise and den­sity. But they don’t want to pay city prop­erty taxes or ac­cept city ser­vices.

Stew­art said San An­to­nio of­fi­cials have of­fered as­sur­ances that the city’s land-use ordinances and codes wouldn’t ap­ply to ex­ist­ing de­vel­op­ments. But Coyle said that if prop­erty own­ers want to ren­o­vate in the fu­ture, they would be re­quired to com­ply with the re­quire­ments.

Stew­art ex­pressed con­cern that the city would im­me­di­ately be­gin fin­ing res­i­dents for vi­o­la­tions.

Stew­art said he be­lieves that ul­ti­mately, the city’s at­tempt to an­nex will be shot down.

“I think there will be seven peo­ple who vote for” an­nex­a­tion, he said. “And those are the seven peo­ple who don’t want fire­works shot off in their neigh­bor­hood any­more.”

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