SAN ANTONIO – San Antonio’s city limits will expand in January to encompass another 4,018 acres on the South Side after the city council on Thursday approved a long-planned annexation.
The nine council members present at Thursday’s meeting voted unanimously to annex 133 agricultural properties, which staff say the city has been eying for a decade. The city estimated there are fewer than 100 people living on the roughly 6.28 square miles worth of total land.
Though two parcels near the Von Ormy city limits had originally been included in the annexation plan, they were left out of the final vote after discussion between Von Ormy and San Antonio officials.
During previous annexations efforts, the owners of the assorted properties had signed agreements with the city that allowed them to temporarily avoid annexation and remain in unincorporated Bexar County.
But those agreements expire in Jan. 19, which allows the city to bring the land inside city limits.
Once officially part of San Antonio, the properties will be covered by city services like police, fire and trash pickup. But they’ll also be subject to city laws and taxes.
“I believe that if the city isn’t allowed to grow, then it dies — eventually, somehow —because it can’t continue to support the community as the community grows within locked-in borders,” said Councilman John Courage, who represents District 9 on the North Side but has also said he plans to run for mayor in 2025.
The interim director of the city planning department, Rudy Niño Jr., said the soon-to-be-annexed properties were part of a long-term plan and study in 2013 that considered areas for future growth and development.
According to a city memo on Thursday’s vote, the city finished limited purpose annexation of the area in 2014, when the City South Management Authority was dissolved, and then completed full annexation in 2016.
However, state law required the city to offer development agreements to people who used their land for agriculture, wildlife management, or timber. Under those agreements, those property owners could temporarily avoid annexation so long as they continued using their property the same way.
The city has previously annexed properties it says broke similar agreements. Now, the pending expiration of these agreements offers the city another opportunity to bring more land into the fold.
Niño said the city did not make any efforts to extend the agreements.
“We felt that this was the right time to do it because we’ve already provided a lot of the emergency services. We’ve already built those facilities, so we felt that it’s time now for the city to move forward with our obligation to annex these areas,” he told reporters after the vote.
Only one property owner, Leonardo Hernandez, came to Thursday’s meeting to fight the annexation. He told council members it hadn’t been much of an “agreement” to begin with.
“We cannot overemphasize that that consent statement that’s on that development agreement was made under duress since there was no option to not get annexed,” he told council members. “We didn’t have that option. It was immediate annexation or sign the agreement.”
State law establishes an “extraterritorial jurisdiction” (ETJ) buffer around a city’s incorporated limits that, depending on the city’s population, ranges from a half-mile to five miles. The city can then annex unincorporated areas within that ETJ area.
The state legislature tried to curb the power of cities like San Antonio to annex property owners involuntarily through a 2017 law that generally requires a petition or election process. However, the development agreements on the South Side predate that, and a city spokeswoman said the process the city is using is still permissible under state law.
The properties being annexed will fall between council districts 3 and 4.
Councilwoman Phyllis Viagran (D3) said she supported the annexation because “I’m very nervous about what the state is doing in terms of... where they could take these ETJ areas. And if you’re not annexed into the city, what control we have.”
“Until the state truly has a plan statewide, it is going to be left to the city and local to work together to make sure that we protect from speculative development in our county areas and our ETJ,” she continued.