By Andre James, Correspondent
The City Council met for the second and final reading of the recent Growth Management Study. Last week’s meeting saw the study area shrink from over 1,300 acres to only 225.06 acres along with the removal of Area 4 from the list of possible properties to annex.
According to City Manager Sam Listi, of the 93 properties eligible for non-annexation development agreements, 73 signed agreements, 18 didn’t sign agreements, and one refused to sign a development agreement.
One of the main problems identified by the council members was the city’s inability to effectively explain to citizens what the purpose development agreements served, and how they work in general.
“I think in general, people were okay with development agreements once they understood them,” said David Leigh. “We need to be more proactive about educating people in our ETJ about development agreements. Another thing I’ve heard is that 10 years is too narrow, but 20 to 30 years is too long from the city’s standpoint. I would like for us to evaluate allowing for development agreements to automatically renew for another 10 years as long as no major changes have been made to the property or the area surrounding it.”
An example of this was the fear that some citizens had that they would lose their ability to apply for agriculture, timber, or wildlife exemptions after being annexed, which is inaccurate.
“Approval of an annexation ordinance today would not prevent a property owner from applying for an agriculture, timber or wildlife exemption,” said Craig Pearson. “If successful and the city accepts this new development agreement, the property would be disannexed.”
Both council members Paul Sanderford and John Holmes were still against proceeding with the annexation, with the former saying that “just because we’ve finished the first reading doesn’t mean we can’t change our minds.”
“If the city can’t force annexation, then they have to become innovative and creative,” said Sanderford, after quoting notes from the Texas Municipal League about why Senate Bill 6 was passed. “If the city of Belton can find innovative ways to use development agreements and voluntary annexation, I think we’ll blaze a new trail away from forced annexation. I just think that’s the better way forward.”
The three properties of Area 1 which are located on the east side of Toll Bridge Road, came under consideration for annexation when the owner of the southernmost property petitioned for voluntary annexation and when the two northern properties were subdivided and the northernmost was given to a family member which broke its development agreement. City staff recommended that the council annex all three properties; however the council instead decided to only annex the two southern properties, granted that the owner of the northern property plans to retain ownership of the property for a residence.
“The only thing that I would ask is that as part of the development agreement is that the property stays under the ownership of the family member,” said Leigh. “If they sell it while under the development agreement that’s essentially a subdivision. I just don’t want to create multiple loopholes to subdivide properties and bypass the intent of the development agreements.”
Area 2, which was primarily targeted for annexation to support the infrastructure around the new BISD school site, was split into two different groups. The first group consisted of properties eligible for annexation both around the new school site and those along the Shanklin Road corridor.
City staff recommended that the council annex all 152.46 acres of the study area, and again the council instead decided to only annex 112.5 acres centered around the new school site and extending a quarter mile south of the site down N/S Shanklin Road. This motion was passed 5:2 again with Sanderford and Holmes voting against.
The second group of Area 2 included three properties across 10.16 acres located on the northern side of Mesquite Lane. The purpose of annexing these properties is to create a thoroughfare for traffic and more specifically school buses, from IH-35 and Shanklin Road. While the city staff recommended to again annex all of this area, the city council unanimously voted against annexing any of the areas, due to the negative effects adjusting Mesquite Lane would have on the property owners.
“Mesquite isn’t the best road in the world, and to build on top of it would require destruction and rebuilding it anyway,” said Leigh. “I would recommend that we don’t annex any of these properties, come back with some kind of thoroughfare plan to adjust or reroute Mesquite Lane where it helps both the county and the new school but doesn’t affect the landowners.
“I think this one is giving me the most heartache as well, mostly because of a couple of things,” said Mayor Marion Grayson. “One, because of the road, and two, somebody telling them they can’t build on their land because there is the possibility of a road being built.”
Area 3 was the last study area brought before the city council and is comprised of 51.48 acres located generally along Old Golf Course Road and the eastern portion of Auction Barn Road west of the current city limits. Like the previous two study areas, city staff recommended that the council annex all 51.48 acres, however, most of the Council disagreed with this.
“There is some infrastructure here that we need to put in place and bring up to city standards that we haven’t done yet,” said Leigh. “Since its part of our CCN, I think we should do that and also provide for the fire hydrants and such. I think that should be number one and then annexation should be number two.”
While the council members agreed that they all saw this area becoming a part of Belton sooner than later, Leigh and Pearson felt that it just wasn’t the time for it.
“I think delaying annexation here shows goodwill in the whole annexation procedure,” said Leigh.
The city council voted 5:2 to delay annexation for Area 3, with both Dan Kirkley and Guy O’Banion voting against.
The city council members were also presented with the recommended appointments and reappointments for vacant seats on boards and commissions. Both Griff Lord and Stevie Spradley whose seats on the Belton Economic Board of Directors expire on Nov. 30, were recommended by Mayor Grayson to be reappointed for another three years. Stephanie O’Banion was recommended by Mayor Grayson to fill Michael Stock’s unexpired term on the Zoning Board of Adjustment Board of Directors, until Aug. 22, 2019, after he moved from Belton. John Corsi was recommended to fill in for O’Banion’s previous position as alternate until Aug. 22, 2019.
Finally, Corsi was recommended to assume Leo Camden’s vacant term on the Housing Board of Adjustments and Appeals Board of Directors. This is a role Corsi previously held in Mineral Wells and expires Aug. 11, 2020. The city council unanimously voted to approve these appointments.
This was also the last Belton city council meeting for Planning Director Erin Smith, who is moving to accept a job in Round Rock. Both Mayor Grayson and City Manager Listi publicly recognized and thanked Smith for her five years of hard work and presented her a vase full of flowers. It was also the Mayor’s birthday. After the council had voted on the last items, she was sung happy birthday and presented with a cake.