Annexation pacts to get second look

City Council revisits agreements with landowners that preceded Tier 2 voter approval

Bill Spinks
Midlothian Mirror
Midlothian City Hall is located downtown at 104 West Avenue E.

What does “voluntary” mean? That was the question the Midlothian City Council wrestled with during its Sept. 28 meeting, as councilmembers took a plunge into annexation deferral agreements over the last three years.

The council, after some discussion, agreed to hold a workshop in the future to iron out procedures on how to handle the cases of property owners who reached agreements to be annexed into the city after a 5-year waiting period.

In 2018, the city struck a deal with about 34 rural landowners to put off forced annexation by agreeing to a 5-year delay as long as land uses don’t change, at the end of which the land would be voluntarily annexed. Those agreements expire in late 2023.

But since then, the law was changed to forbid forced annexations. About 30 landowners remain whose agreements are still in place; the other four have either gone forward with annexation or sold to developers. One of the current landowners, Louis Ponder, spoke before the City Council.

Ponder was one of the backers of a successful May 2019 referendum making Ellis County a so-called “Tier 2” county, in which all annexations must be voluntary or voter-approved. Voters overwhelmingly approved the measure by an 86.89-percent margin.

Ponder said his 2018 agreement with the city was more of an “ultimatum” and that he really had no choice but to sign the agreement as “the lesser of two evils.” Ponder said his land, which is located on Mount Zion Road, has been in his family for more than a century.

Councilmember Walter Darrach took the lead in coming out against the 5-year agreements, saying, “In some circles, in other situations, that’s called coercion.” But Mayor Richard Reno objected to the word Darrach used, saying the land was going to be annexed anyway under the laws in place and that the council at that time did well by offering the choice of a deferment.

City attorney Joe Gorfida said the law in effect at the time made it legal, but that the City Council can amend the agreement at any time.

Mayor Pro Tem Ted Miller, who was on the council at the time of the 2018 agreements, said the 5-year deferment was recommended by numerous staff at the time, and the intent was to fill a growing number of “donut holes” within the city.

A general consensus was reached that extending the agreements beyond 2023 was the best route forward, so that the city could keep some control over the properties’ future while maintaining green space and allowing landowners to keep their properties outside the city. By tearing up the agreements, the city would lose control over future land use.

In the meantime, the city will set up a workshop to determine the best way to handle each property owner’s case. With more than two years left before the agreements expire, the city has plenty of time to address the situation.

All councilmembers were present.

Other items

• Each councilmember gave a quarterly report on the goings-on of each city commission that he is assigned to as a liaison.

• The approved consent agenda consisted of previous meeting minutes and an agreement with the city of Alma to join the Ellis Countywide Radio System, which Midlothian operates.

• Councilmembers agreed to voluntarily annex a 31.387-acre property north of FM 875 between McAlpin Road and Skinner Road and, in a separate motion, to zone it as a planned development. This is the same portion of a larger property that was recently moved into Midlothian’s extraterritorial jurisdiction in a land swap with Waxahachie. The vote was 6-0 with councilmember Hud Hartson abstaining.

• The council approved an agreement with the Hoefer Welker firm for the architectural design of the City Hall/Library facility project. The city received 14 applications and narrowed it to five for interviews, assistant city manager Clyde Melick said.

• A new ordinance was passed amending the city’s code of ordinances by changing school drop-off, pick-up and parking prohibitions during specified times. The ordinance specifically addresses traffic in the Massey Meadows subdivision but can be applied to other school zones. The item passed 6-1 with Darrach voting no.

• Councilmembers approved a grant of $409,800 from the Midlothian Community Development Corporation to the city Parks Department to fund the 14th Street beautification project from George Hopper Road to McAlpin Road. A similar MCDC grant of $57,553 to the Parks Department for the Heritage Park beautification project was also OK’d.

• Following an executive session, the council voted to purchase three small portions of land for $20,000 in relation to the McAlpin Road intersection project.