Guest Editorial: City of Conroe, Mayor Powell should back off from illegal forced annexation

Charlie Horton.

Charlie Horton, Guest Editorialist to The Golden Hammer

The ugly issue of forced annexations has been raised again even though Conroe Mayor Powell ran his campaign with bold rhetoric against it.

Some on the Conroe City Council have also made assurances that they were on our side. But other councilmen seem to have ‘deaf ears’ when the Mayor speaks. Why?

People all over the State of Texas have been speaking to their legislators. Two years ago I sent a letter to my State Representative, Cecil Bell, asking for help. We visited in his office and by phone. I explained my past experiences in 2015 with Conroe’s attempts to annex our area and the blunders and inconsistencies I had to point out to the City they had made during that attempt to annex. He got the picture. He sits as Vice Chair of the Land and Resource Management Committee.

Many others and I asked for help and made our opinion known.

Forced annexations and forcing regulations on unwilling, uninformed landowners with no recourse should be addressed by the Texas Legislature and the City.

Policing and jurisdiction over questionable annexation practices should begin immediately and previous annexations should be reviewed for validity.

Extra-territorial jurisdictions should be proofed for accuracy and tested against adherence to statutes. Methods use to describe legal descriptions of properties to be annexed should be scrutinized.

Residents should not have to sue the City because the City’s annexation practices are questionable. That battle with Conroe has not been lost. It was beaten on a technicality. Conroe should hold itself to the standard that they can prove there are no questionable actions.

County residents don’t have to pay for bad decisions made by City administrators in luring growth with bad business decisions, partnerships and abatement promises that put the burden on taxpayers.

These issues have been addressed by the 85th Legislative session. Changes were passed that took effect December 1, 2017 to protect certain rights of some counties’ residents.

How many residents is Conroe providing services to now? By the City of Conroe’s published information, they estimate 82,286. The United States Census Bureau estimated 2016 County Population at 556,203, in the annually updated American Survey. The Houston Galveston Area Council reported Montgomery County’s Census estimate at 647,417.

With new mega-communities Grand Central Park and Woodforest and even Woodland Hills and others’ estimated build-outs, it will easily add over 25,000 or more residents to the City of Conroe. There’s the tax base.

Older small subdivisions like Lake Lorraine, Leisure Shores, Pine Lake are riddled with problems the City will have to face and pay for and are not offering additional services. If any developed areas out in the direction of Lake Conroe want annexation, or as the area develops new subdivisions, they can simply request to be annexed if, as informed citizens, they make a solid decision to be annexed.

We are all paying for fire protection now, no matter what tale Nancy Mikeska is spinning. Go police East Conroe better.

I’ve requested and checked open records for police dispatch and arrival times at April Sound and Walmart. The Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office’s response times were much better than the City of Conroe Police Department’s.

You should not be able to pass by Lake Conroe Village with a promise of 3 year annexation and attempt to take Lake Lorraine until completing the Lake Conroe Village annexation. If you choose to defer Lake Conroe Village later, the people that need policing and city services the worst will have been eliminated.

Our Dilemma: West side of Pine Lake Rd.
The City of Conroe’s proposed Annexation 2017-02 Lake Lorraine and Marina Territory includes a platted subdivision Lake Lorraine, Lakeside Landing Storage and April Plaza Marina. The website map and the map mailed to people living within the proposed annexation differ a lot. The maps should be studied for discrepancies.

The proposed annexation also includes land on the west side of Pine Lake Rd that is large acreage tracts approximately 10 acres or larger that are not part of a platted subdivision but just surveyed into tracts,  and unrestricted property. All are still rural land used for timber production, cattle and wildlife management. They have their own water wells and septic. Only some have single family residences.

The west side of Pine Lake Road should be removed from the 2017-02 Lake Lorraine and Marina Territory proposed annexation.

Intruding on our landowner rights and imposing municipal regulations on land used for timber, cattle production and wildlife management is not in the best interest of the intended use of land or the animals. It imposes undue hardship on landowners answering to city regulators.

Just because City administrators feel they can, doesn’t mean they should. Just to want to throw it in there to ‘fill a gap’ and further their agenda doesn’t make it a requirement or valid. None except the 46 acres on the corner of Pine Lake Rd and 105 have commercial potential.

[Publisher’s Note: Nobel laureate Ronald Coase is responsible for the Coase Theorem that “if transaction costs are zero, land will move to its highest and best use.” Forced annexation with the imposition of city regulations increases transaction costs massively and forces land towards uses far lower than their highest and best use.]

Another Dilemma: Development Agreements

As a landowner with timber valuation I am offered a development agreement. It’s a one-sided, simple agreement drawn up by the City that offers me continued extraterritorial status with caveats. Statutes allows certain authority by the City even though we stay in the extra-territorial jurisdiction.

Paragraph 4 of the proposed agreement ‘authorizes enforcement of all regulations and planning authority of the municipality that does not interfere with the use of the area for agriculture, wildlife management or timber.’ Too much is left for loose interpretation by any City department or City officer that feels they have to enforce what they want to.

The agreement’s introductory letter states “you may propose changes and if they are not acceptable to the city, then you will be considered to have declined the city’s offer and the city will be free to annex your property.”

The City of Conroe applies pressure that we must agree to their terms and sign the agreement 17 days prior to the proposed annexation vote date.

With as much heated debate over this annexation process, the new legislative changes coming into effect December 1, 2017 and potential for annexations to not take place, why would we commit to the development agreement so far in advance of the December 14th date?

What we want

We ask the City:

1) Take the west side of Pine Lake Rd out of Lake Lorraine Marina Territory 2017-02 proposed annexation.

2) Amend Development Agreement language to clearly define points that are not clear and well defined.

3) Clarify 30 day extension of time to sign the Development Agreement is granted or grant extension until 3 days past the December 14th annexation ordinance date.

4) Defer all proposed annexations until the Texas Attorney General interprets and has written opinion on the effective date of Senate Bill 6.

Senate Bill 6 changes go into effect December 1, 2017. There are to be no forced annexations after December 1 in counties with population over 500,000. Census estimates and Montgomery County’s published information show the County’s population is over 500,000 now.

The intent of the Senate Bill 6 and “spirit of the law” intends for the law to go into effect December 1, 2017.

This bill’s intent is not up for interpretation by Conroe. It was written with the City of Conroe and others specifically in mind to offer protections for residents NOW.

It is no longer a time when City of Conroe can shove annexations down property owners’ throats.

Mayor Powell and the City Council should understand that County residents believe strongly that they should live up to their campaign commitments. No forced annexations should occur on their watch. We heard it and believed it. Everyone thought you had the power to do that. The aggressive Conroe annexation attitude needs to be stopped in its tracks now. The Mayor knows it and responsible Councilmen must understand it. The law dictates it.

Charlie Horton lives on the west side Pine Lake Road in an area where the City of Conroe seems to intend to force annexation without a referendum as Senate Bill 6 would seem to require. Horton provided many of the foregoing comments directly to the Conroe City Council. He, along with many others, is frustrated that the City Council is ignoring the people and the law.

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