City leaders in Azle are learning the hard way what Weatherford City Councilmembers discovered recently. Trying to annex property these days is like telling an Aggie joke in a bar in College Station. You are liable to get slapped.
“Greedy piglets” was one of the more interesting descriptions spat at Azle Mayor Alan Brundrett and city councilmembers at a public hearing on Monday night. Officials are seeking to annex about 400 acres of property along FM 730 and Jacksboro Highway. They say the properties are in areas ripe for future development and that the city needs to annex the land to maintain control over what is built there in the years ahead.
But cities trying to annex property before Dec 1 are making people pretty, pretty pissed. That’s when a new state law takes effect that requires cities to hold a vote before annexing unincorporated property in large counties (500,000 residents or more), including Tarrant County. State Rep. Phil King of Parker County slapped on an amendment that allows counties with fewer than 500,000 residents, such as Parker County, to hold an election to opt in to the law. To make that happen, 10 percent of registered voters would have to sign a petition to request an opt-in election.
Earlier this year, Weatherford officials awoke a sleeping, straw-chewing giant when they tried to annex 1,300 acres of unincorporated property that included Zion Hill, a community made up of folks who like living outside the city limits, raising cows and chickens, using water wells and septic tanks, and enjoying freedoms from what they see as onerous code regulations, inspectors, permit fees, and such. They also can enjoy all the great things about living next to a city –– access to restaurants, theaters, auto mechanics –– without having to pay city taxes.
The grassroots group Stop Zion Hill Annexation is working feverishly to obtain the necessary 8,500 signatures on their petition for the opt-in election (“Weatherford Land Grabs,” Sep 27). Members of that group showed up at the Azle hearing to let city leaders there know that attempts to annex land prior to Dec 1 or before an election petition is little more than a sneaky land grab.
Some of the property owners impacted by the potential Azle annexation stated their opposition with passion and eloquence during the public hearing. Some, like the guy who wore a felt cowboy hat with a big feather sticking out of it, said he didn’t cotton to people telling him how to maintain his property and that he purposely kept his place looking like crap as a signal for city officials to keep the hell away. Or something like that.
In September, Weatherford officials decided to postpone annexation until after Dec 1 after hearing earfuls from angry protesters at packed public hearings. Azle officials might follow suit, although they appeared adept at letting the criticism slide off their backs during Monday’s hearing. One elected official reminded the crowd that councilmembers aren’t paid after a speaker insinuated that they were laughing all the way to the bank from the annexations.