Divided Austin City Council decides not to annex three dozen homes

The residents of about 35 homes on the southern fringe of Austin have escaped annexation, saved from increased property taxes by the City Council’s last-second move to only add business property located in that area to the city.

For the residents of the Mooreland tract, an area of about four neighborhood streets, it means their homes will now be surrounded by the city of Austin while they remain in unincorporated Travis County.

And under a new state law that goes into effect Dec. 1, Austin will not be able to annex their homes unless it can gain petition signatures from more than half of the residents.

RELATED: Austin begins final round of annexations before state law changes

At their Nov. 9 meeting, the council cut out the residential portion of the Mooreland tract, a roughly 34-acre misshapen square of land along Manchaca Road about 2 miles south of Slaughter Lane and 2 miles east of Interstate 35. The area had been set for annexation for about a year.

Instead, the city annexed just the 5 commercial acres fronting Manchaca Road. The city will now collect property taxes on those properties as well as a portion of the sales tax revenue they generate.

The newly annexed area will be in Council Member Ann Kitchen’s District 5. Kitchen voted in favor of adding the business property, but only after indicating that she was opposed to adding any of the land if it meant annexing residential property.

“This is an area that the city grew to and has now grown around,” Kitchen said. “Many people have lived there for quite some time and many are concerned about the cost to them both from taxes and also if they need to go through processes to do anything to their home.”

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Mayor Steve Adler countered that annexing the entire tract was a matter of equity: Because people living in the Mooreland tract already use so many city services, he said, they should be paying their fair share.

“The people that live in this area are able to enjoy the roads and the streets, the library we just built, the parks, all the things we just built in this city,” Adler said. “All the people are participating in those costs. We divide those costs and we share them.”

Council Member Jimmy Flannigan, whose Northwest Austin District 6 has its own share of residents who hadn’t wanted to be annexed, disagreed with the mayor’s rationale. He said the math does not “pencil out” and that extending city services to areas on the edge of town costs more than the tax revenue it generates.

“You can always say the next parcel out benefits,” Flannigan said. “At some point, you have to draw the line and, to me, the line is already a little further out than it should have been.”

Left out of the city, the residents will continue to enjoy more lax building codes and relatively few regulations on what they might build in that area.

VISIT VOTETRACKER: See how your Austin City Council member voted on key issues

With the council appearing against annexing the entire Mooreland tract, Council Member Alison Alter asked for votes to be taken on commercial and residential property separately. Annexing the commercial land passed 7-3 with Council Members Ellen Troxclair, Ora Houston and Flannigan voting no.

The council then voted 6-4 against annexing the residential land, with Council Members Kathie Tovo, Delia Garza, Sabino “Pio” Renteria and the mayor supporting annexation. Council Member Greg Casar was off the dais for both votes.

It’s unusual for the council not to proceed with an annexation, but not unprecedented. In November 2015, a divided council decided not to annex an area known as the Upper Bull Creek neighborhood, off Old Lampasas Trail near Spicewood Springs Road, after all nine property owners presented a united front against the annexation.

This month the council also voted to annex two other areas: a 27-acre tract along Interstate 35 that houses the HOLT Cat business, and 212 acres in Northwest Austin adjacent to the River Place neighborhood that is already slated for annexation. Council Member Ellen Troxclair voted against the River Place annexation.

Both sites have no residential property.

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