Another group of county residents being targeted for forced annexation are saying they want no part of a nearby city’s land grab.
Over 100 Bell County residents received “Dear Property Owner” notices from the City of Belton last month advising them that the city plans to annex their property – within just a few weeks and without their consent.
In response, targeted residents will be asking the city to stop its land grab and give people a chance to vote on whether or not they join the city. Belton City Council’s first public hearing on its involuntary annexation plan is set for this Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m.
While the city says its designs on over 1,300 acres of unincorporated Bell County property are part of a “growth management” plan, county residents fear the city wants to turn their quiet rural property into a major urban retail center – something they moved to the country to avoid.
“My family bought land twice in unincorporated parts of Bell County because it was the ideal place to raise a family on Texas values of patriotism, freedom and independence,” says Amy Cook, whose property has been targeted for forced annexation. “Taxation without representation has never been a winning strategy in this state or in this nation.”
Cook says she and her neighbors are also shocked at how the city is trampling their private property rights and ignoring the consent of the governed.
“Consent of the governed is one of the founding principles of our nation and the state of Texas. Why then would the Texas city of Belton think that a forced annexation of over 1,300 acres in Bell County would be accepted without a fight? Or that a city can forcibly annex fellow Texans’ property without their consent?”
Belton is one of several cities around Texas rushing to forcibly annex unincorporated land into its boundaries and onto city tax rolls. The land grabs like McKinney’s and Mesquite’s are being fast-tracked ahead of new municipal annexation reforms that go into effect December 1.
Currently, cities can annex adjacent unincorporated land within their extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) without landowners’ consent. Senate Bill 6, enacted during this year’s special legislative session, requires cities in larger counties to get owners’ approval before taking their property into the city.
Belton won’t be immediately restricted by the property rights protections in SB 6. The new law applies only to cities in counties with 500,000 or more residents. But voters in smaller counties like Bell can elect to opt in to the new protections.
That’s what a group of Parker County residents are working toward, now that they’ve convinced the city of Weatherford to drop its forced annexation plans and give people a chance to vote.
Laura Hester, organizer of Stop Involuntary Annexation in Parker County, says her group has already gathered over 3,800 signatures on a petition to put the opt-in question to a countywide vote. They’re aiming for 10,000 signers – well over ten percent of the county’s 85,000 registered voters that the law requires.
In addition to individual circulators, the group has enlisted dozens of local businesses to make petitions available to their customers.
“We’ll also be out collecting signatures at events all around the county,” Hester said.
If their efforts succeed, Weatherford and other cities in Parker County will be required to get property owners’ approval before annexing them.
Bell County residents may also pursue opting in to the new property rights protections. But for now, they’re focused on staving off Belton’s land grab.
Cook notes that it’s not just an issue for a few who are being forcibly annexed today – it’s a question for all citizens of Bell County and for all Texans, and she urges all Texans to get engaged on the issue. “We should answer with a resounding No!” says Cook. “It is worth the investment of time attending hearings, drafting petitions, and gathering support from fellow Texans.”
Public hearings on the annexation plans are set for October 24 and October 31 at 5:30 p.m. in the Harris Community Center. County residents plan to petition city council to hold a third public hearing at a location within the ETJ. A final vote is expected on November 28.