Victoria’s 706-acre annexation plan raises concerns

Rural landowners push back against city’s development, annexation plans.

Going fast are the days where neighbors were at least an acre away and the rules, too, were few and far between.

Longtime property owners at the end of Mallette Drive, where new neighborhoods juxtapose ranchland and cattle, are finding themselves in the crosshairs of development as Victoria looks to extend its boundaries.

When Schorlemmer Elementary School opened in 2009 on Mallette Drive, David Bosart knew development in the area was coming.

Five years later, his prediction is coming true.

A1, Sunday, Nov. 1, 2014

Bosart, owner of Bosart Polaris, is pushing back against Victoria’s plan to bring him within the city’s boundaries.

The $2,300 increase on his tax bill, along with the $2,800 fee to connect to water and sewer, will be a financial hit – but the money is not his biggest concern.

“The most upsetting thing is losing a lot of our freedoms and being taxed for it at the same time,” Bosart said. “I haven’t seen any benefit to it.”

With sign ordinances, building codes, parking requirements and landscaping rules, he worries his ATV business might not meet the city’s standards.

Bosart’s 14 acres are part of a larger plan to bring in 706 acres into city limits. The properties are up and down U.S. Highways 59 and 87, and, in his case, next door to a major housing development.

Some property owners question the city’s motives, but officials say annexation is necessary to make land available for future development.

Across from Bosart’s property, Steve Klein, a residential developer, is selling the first homes in the Ranches at Terra Vista subdivision.

Klein’s neighborhoods have spurred much of Victoria’s northern sprawl.

He served on the city’s planning commission for eight years and said he recognizes a city’s responsibility to plan orderly growth.

“If you want to annex 300 acres here or 500 acres there because it has the future potential of being developed, I think that’s OK,” Klein said. “I think there just needs to be some common sense resolution when it comes to individual homes on small acreage. They built out in the country for a reason. They wanted to be in the country.”

Unlike major metro areas where suburbs push against each other to annex the most land first, Victoria’s surrounding communities aren’t butting up to the city limit, Klein said.

San Antonio city officials are considering a 66-square mile expansion, which would bring more than 200,000 people into the city.

In Victoria, there’s no rush for a land grab, or a fight to secure future tax revenue over another city, Klein said.

“The reality in Victoria is that the annexation process should be buffered by common sense as to what the realistic population growth will be and the realistic expectations for development on that part of town,” he said.

Residential development has grown steadily since 2011 with single-family and apartment-style housing, but sales tax numbers are starting to show a different story.

Revenue from shoppers has leveled off and is even lagging behind last year by about $211,000.

Victoria’s financial records show it’s mainly because of a decrease in oil and gas development nearby in the Eagle Ford Shale.

The city’s revenues depend more on sales tax than its property tax base. Sales tax revenue makes up about 37 percent of the city’s general fund budget, which covers the police and fire departments and other sectors. Property taxes account for less than a third.

Assistant City Manager John Kaminski is keeping a close watch on oil prices in light of the city’s plans.

If oil drops to $50 a barrel, growth – and the annexations that come with it – could plummet.

“The Eagle Ford has been such a huge impact on our region; if it stopped tomorrow, it would be felt,” Kaminski said. “It would be felt by everybody.”

Klein said Victoria has enough “pent-up demand” to weather the flux of the oil industry.

“Am I worried about oil prices? No, I’m not,” Klein said. “People are looking at the photographs and floor plans on the Internet and buying our homes. Dropping oil prices are not a concern.”

Klein isn’t looking to slow down his development in Victoria.

“Real estate is like any other business or industry – it’s cyclical,” Klein said. “Oil was $100 a barrel. It’s down to $80. There are people who say it will go down to $50 and $60, and people who say it will go back to $100 next month.”

Klein sees potential in empty fields and vacant lots already inside Victoria city limits for more development.

Unless the city changes its focus to solving the drainage problems and increasing water and sewer capacity on those sites, the sprawl and annexations will be the norm, he said.

Kaminski said the city won’t annex land if it cannot afford to do so.

City officials will not spend any money to annex the 706 acres up for consideration. None of the acreage requires improvements, such as new roads or larger sewer or water lines, but growth and sprawl still come at a price.

Development north of Zac Lentz Parkway triggered the city to build a new $2.7 million fire station.

The city’s new wastewater treatment plant, which will have enough capacity to serve the growing population for years to come, costs about $20 million.

“We’re not looking to annex a bunch of subdivision to bring people into the city,” Kaminski said. “We’re trying to preserve our ability to continue to grow.”

The state allows Victoria to annex up to 10 percent of its area a year. Although the city has no plans to reach that threshold, the acreage between U.S. Highway 87 and U.S. 77 is showing potential for more development, he said.

The northwest side of Zac Lentz Parkway is another piece on his radar.

“That’s all a matter of the property getting sold to somebody who’s going to do something with it,” he said.

The City Council will vote Tuesday on a $255,700 project to install an oversized sewer line to serve the first phase of the Salem Crossing subdivision. The developer will pay the remaining $495,796 of the project.

The whole annexation process is about forward-thinking, Kaminski said.

“We’re not picking properties and saying, ‘We think we’ll put you in the city,'” Kaminski said. “We’re being prepared for future development.”

Earlier this year, the city annexed about 700 acres on the outskirts of the city, including a large chunk on U.S. Highway 77 North.

Les Zeplin, who owns a business along the annexed stretch, said he hasn’t seen any benefit to the change in boundary line.

“I’ll never be happy with what happened to us,” he said.

The city is trying to grow “too big too quick,” he said.

At 67 years old, he said he’s seen the oil come and go.

“We’re going to downturn again,” he said.

While hotels and apartments are opening up right and left, he thinks about the bust in the 1980s.

“Land and property values dropped big time,” he said. “It could happen again, and it could happen in a week.”

Without annexing individual properties, like Zeplin’s or Bosart’s, the city could become blocked or cut-off by rural development, Kaminski said.

Over on Mallette Drive, Bosart sees the annexation a little differently.

For 40 years, his family has lived and worked without creating a hassle for neighbors or law enforcement, he said.

Bosart wants the city to reconsider its plan. He wants his family left out of the annexation.

At this point, it’s hard for him to say whether the business can last another 40 years on the other side of the city limit.

“This is basically my life,” Bosart said. “They’re coming in and affecting my life and my livelihood.”

Published Nov. 16, 2014
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