By Kevin M. Smith
Killeen Daily Herald
Rural Bell County landowners of 247 agricultural properties near the city of Killeen have until Friday to sign an agreement to exempt their farms from annexation.
But many of them disagree with the "agreement" and have virtually no option to negotiate.
"Pretty much what we keep hearing is 'sign it or be annexed,'" Karen Walinder said.
She grew up on the family farm, located across from Shoemaker High School. The farm is inside one of five tracts of land the city wants to annex. Her family has farmed on that land for about 70 years.
"Which we have not developed nor do we intend to develop," said Walinder, whose parents still live there and farm.
Walinder's situation is not unique. Several residents in the proposed annexation areas are resisting the city's proposal.
Joel Barton has owned the Trading Post store on Texas Highway 195 for nearly five years and has lived in rural Bell County since 1990.
"Out here there's no gunshots, no police sirens and no boomboxes," said Barton, who has lived in various parts of Bell County, including the city limits of Killeen and Harker Heights, since 1976. "I came out here for peace and quiet."
Ken Deeter has lived on Brandy Loop, just off State Highway 195, since April 2006. He moved there for a specific reason.
"I found me a place out in the county, and I thought I found hog heaven," Deeter, 50, said.
He received a letter from the city of Killeen about two weeks ago stating that he is in an area under consideration to be annexed.
"I wasn't too happy about it," Deeter said.
Like Barton, Deeter said he moved out there for the country lifestyle.
"But it (the city) looks like it is creeping up on me," Deeter said.
Not every property in the proposed annexation areas will be brought into the city limits. Property that is used for agriculture, wildlife management or timber can be exempted from annexation if the landowner signs an agreement with the city.
Residents with land eligible for exemption – based on the tax appraisal district's definition – can sign the city's development agreement. It states that as long as the use of the land does not change, the city cannot annex the land. The city would then leapfrog over the property that cannot be annexed and offer services to residents on the new land in the city limits. Recent Texas legislation – House Bill 1472 – allows municipalities to offer up to three 15-year development agreements for potentially exempt property.
"This is not something we just cooked up; it is being used across the state," City Attorney Kathy Davis said.
The city is offering 247 properties development agreements for five years.
"No. 1, it's consistent with what we've done in the past," Davis said about offering five-year agreements rather than 15 years. "We don't want to have a 15-year agreement because that ties the hands of future councils."
Davis said if an area develops sooner than expected, the staff wants the council to have the freedom to annex the area. If the land use changes anytime during the time period, it voids the agreement and the city can annex the land.
But that "agreement" doesn't sit well with everyone.
"You have to define the term 'negotiation,'" Joan Vanderlaan said Wednesday at a public meeting to answer residents' questions.
Some residents want some of the terms in the agreement changed, such as the length of the exemption.
"If you 'x' out things or change things you don't like, you are saying you don't agree with it," Davis said.
Davis said the City Council can direct staff members to make changes to individual or all development agreements, but the staff does not have the resources to individually negotiate 247 contracts.
While farmland can be exempted from annexation, all houses would be brought into the city limits.
"There is no such thing as an (agriculture) exempt house, so any house structure ... would automatically be subject to annexation," said John Fisher, Bell County commissioner for Precinct 4, which includes Killeen.
The city is using the State Tax Appraisal District of Bell County to determine whether a property is used for agriculture. The tax appraisal district hands out two tax bills for farmers and ranchers: one for the residential property and one for the agricultural property.
Barton said he worries about the impact on his business if it is brought into the city.
"I'm sure that they will come in – just like they have every other business – and control it," Barton said.
Earl Abbott, Killeen building official for code enforcement, said rural county businesses will not have to change instantly when they are brought into the city limits. While city ordinance does require a weather-impervious surface for business parking lots, a business annexed into the city would not have to comply with that unless it changes ownership, the type of business or does significant construction.
"If they increase the parking lot size, that's where the new stuff kicks in," Abbott said as an example.
All property annexed into the city automatically becomes agriculturally zoned.
"Even if we annex a business park, it's automatically ag," Davis said.
She said the city would then create a zoning plan based on existing property use to rezone each area so that each area is properly zoned for its current use.
The city has 2 years from the date of annexation to supply water and sewer service to residents of the new areas of town. Residents are not required to connect to the city sewer line if it's too expensive.
The city is considering annexing five tracts of land totaling 7,694 acres – about 12 square miles.
The first tract is 256 acres on the northwest edge of Killeen, west of Clear Creek Road and north of Mandalay Drive. The second tract is 363 acres on the western edge, west of Clear Creek Road and west of Golden Gate Drive.
The third tract is 2,055 acres located in the west-central portion of the city, west of State Highway 195 and east of Clear Creek Road, just north of Reese Creek Road.
The fourth tract is 908 acres located in the southwest, south of Chaparral Road and west of Cody Lane, then proceeding south along State Highway 195 for 4.8 miles.
Tracts one, two, three and four would fall under District 4 for City Council representation. That is Councilwoman Claudia Brown's district.
The fifth tract is 4,103 acres southeast of Killeen, south of Chaparral Road and east of East Trimmier Road. It would fall under District 2 for City Council representation. That is Councilman Juan Rivera's district.
Oct. 13 was the deadline for the city to notify property owners in the areas being considered for annexation. Eligible property owners have until Nov. 2 to sign and return development agreements if they want their land exempt from annexation.
The first public hearing will be during the regular Killeen City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 13 at City Hall, 101 N. College St. The second public hearing will be during the regular Killeen City Council meeting at 6 p.m. Nov. 27. The council will vote on an ordinance Dec. 18 to decide if the city will annex some, all or none of the tracts.