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After weeks of public pushback, a North Texas city’s mayor is backing off plans to forcibly annex surrounding county property – a big win for local landowners and for property rights.

McKinney Mayor George Fuller posted on Facebook Friday afternoon that he will no longer support forced annexation of any of the unincorporated Collin County property that had been fast-tracked to be appropriated into city limits this month.

Fuller said that “without a consistent 45-year deferment plan acceptable to all ETJ residents, I will not support annexation of any parcel.”

The city had hoped to forcibly annex land in its extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) quickly, before a new law takes effect December 1 that will require cities like McKinney to get landowners’ consent before annexing them into city limits and onto city tax rolls.

City council was set to vote on the annexation plan on November 15, just two months after residents received their first notices and two weeks ahead of the deadline.

In September, the city offered agricultural landowners development agreements with five-year annexation deferments, while non-agricultural property owners were offered three years of city tax rebates in exchange for agreeing to immediate annexation. Late last month, Fuller announced that the city would offer 45-year deferments to all the targeted property owners.

To accomplish this, Fuller said in his Facebook post,

“I asked staff to prepare a Development Agreement that would provide both development oversight to the city in the event that an ETJ property ‘use’ changes, as well as provide security and a guarantee to ETJ residents that if the law was again to change, and similar annexation methods were available to the City, those residents were protected from such annexation for the balance of 45 years. . . .

“Sadly, it is now apparent to me that we are not able to agree on terms of that agreement.”

A deal-breaker, Fuller said, was ETJ landowners’ request to retain control over how they could use their property. Landowners want to reserve their right to use their land in ways they’d previously planned, without triggering the terms of the agreement that imposed city regulations or automatic annexation.

Nothing prevents McKinney from pursuing voluntary annexation agreements that are mutually agreeable to both the city and the landowners. But Fuller said that landowners’ not signing the 45-year agreements under threat of force – the city’s original intent was to annex their land with or without the agreements – is a loss for both the city and the ETJ residents.

“It protected them to where they never had to be back in that room in red T-shirts arguing property rights to maintain their property,” Fuller said.

The “red t-shirts” Fuller referenced belong to local residents-turned-activists who have been showing up in droves at city council meetings and public hearings to protest the city’s planned land grab, often wearing red t-shirts that read “Collin Strong” and “Cities don’t have rights, people have rights.”

But more than public protests and t-shirts may have persuaded the mayor to change his stance.

An independent legal opinion sought by an attorney representing targeted landowners was delivered to the mayor and city council members on November 2, the day before Fuller’s public announcement. It alleged the city council violated the Texas Open Meetings Act (TOMA) when it voted to initiate the land grab. According to the opinion:

“The City of McKinney’s August 28, 2017 meeting did not comply with the TOMA. As a result, the August 28 Annexation Resolution is subject to judicial invalidation.”

The impact of the alleged TOMA violation isn’t yet clear. What is clear, though, is that without Fuller’s support, city council’s vote changes to 4-3 against annexation. Fuller now joins council members Chuck Branch, Scott Elliott, and Charlie Phillips, who opposed the plan from the outset. It’s likely other council members who backed Fuller’s original land grab plan will change their position as well.

McKinney resident Paul Chabot is happy with the mayor’s new stance on the city’s land grab, but says it never should have been considered or dragged out this far. “To be clear, it was the local residents who fought back that ended this matter,” Chabot said. “Leadership matters, and a government is only as powerful as its people allow. Good on our local activists – very impressive win.”

McKinney’s next city council meeting is on Tuesday, November 7, at 6:00 p.m., with a work session scheduled for tonight at 5:30 p.m. Annexation opponents will be there to make sure the mayor follows through on his word.

City council hasn’t yet said whether it still plans to hold an annexation vote on November 15; that meeting never appeared on the official city calendar. For now, a majority of city officials are saying they don’t support the city’s ill-conceived plans to fast-track annexation without the consent of the people.

UPDATE: The Texas Attorney General’s Office today advised McKinney city officials that their annexation attempt may violate state law.

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