Residents of two North Texas counties who vowed to fight a city’s land grab “until the end” are almost there – and they’re winning.
Landowners in unincorporated parts of Kaufman and Dallas counties, who have been fighting forced annexation by the City of Mesquite for the past two months, got another big win in court Tuesday evening.
Judge Staci Williams of the 101st Civil District Court in Dallas extended her November 14 temporary restraining order, blocking Mesquite’s plans to forcibly annex land in both counties until December 11. That’s well past a December 1 deadline, when new annexation reforms kick in requiring cities like Mesquite to get landowners’ consent before annexing their property.
After the hearing, attorney Tracy Gray, whose Guest & Gray law firm has been representing the targeted landowners pro bono, explained the judge’s ruling to the crowd of residents gathered at the courthouse to follow the proceedings:
“What the judge did is she extended the temporary restraining order… to December 11, which means the city of Mesquite cannot propose an ordinance to annex any property until we have any type of hearing.
“As you know, there is a law change that is going to go into effect December 1. It is our position that once the December 1 date comes around, if an ordinance has not already been enacted, it must follow the new law. As you can tell, they’re not going to be able to enact an ordinance before December 1.”
Gray cautioned that the case is still going forward. Mesquite may try to file motions with the court questioning the plaintiffs’ standing to file suit, she said, as well as whether the city can complete the forced annexations under the current law after December 1.
“I don’t see any case law that says that,” Gray said. “In fact, the statute says that if an ordinance has not been enacted before December 1, it must follow the new law.”
“Today is a very good day,” Gray concluded.
The new law, Senate Bill 6, passed during this year’s special legislative session, will require cities like Mesquite that are in counties with 500,000 or more residents to get landowners’ approval before annexing them. Cities in smaller counties will still be allowed to expand by annexing property in their extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) – unincorporated land adjacent to city boundaries – without owners’ consent.
Plaintiffs seeking to stop Mesquite’s land grab allege that city officials may have violated state law in their rush to beat the clock on the new annexation law. Their allegations were supported by an amicus brief filed Tuesday by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office citing what it called “not technical violations of Texas law” but “major violations.”
Mesquite isn’t the only North Texas city that faced public backlash for rushing to beat SB 6’s December 1 deadline.
The cities of Weatherford in Parker County and McKinney in Collin County both stopped their land grabs after receiving strong pushback from local residents opposed to forced annexation, as did the city of Bridgeport in Wise County.
Landowners targeted by the city of Celina weren’t so fortunate. Celina city officials ignored residents’ protests and forcibly annexed over 200 properties in Collin and Denton counties just two days before Thanksgiving.
Mesquite City Council is scheduled to meet on November 30 – the last day before SB 6 takes effect. The pending legal actions regarding the land grabs are on the agenda under “possible executive session litigation discussion.”
But it looks like months of fighting Mesquite city hall is about to end in a big win.