Municipalities look to protect boundaries from neighboring cities’ expansion
Since 2011, the City of Magnolia has aggressively expanded its reach in Montgomery County to add more than 1,200 acres to its extraterritorial jurisdiction. Officials have honed in on the FM 1488 corridor as Conroe, Magnolia and The Woodlands borders come together, and in some cases overlap, resulting in an identity crisis among businesses, residents and visitors.
At Magnolia’s September City Council meeting, about 170 acres on eastbound FM 1488 were added to the ETJ, which is the unincorporated land surrounding the city limits. Economic Development Coordinator Deborah Miller said the city has been creating a bigger buffer zone against Conroe to bring some of the economic growth on FM 1488 into Magnolia.
“All we are doing is staking our borders,” Miller said. “We are trying to get as close to Gable Road as possible and [taking] areas that are undeveloped with potential for businesses.”
City limits and ETJ
A city can add territory in two ways—to its city limits, or into its ETJ through voluntary annexation. An ETJ is the area of land surrounding a city and extends a certain length depending on the population. For a city the size of Magnolia, the ETJ is an area of one-half mile around the
Voluntary annexation requires landowners to request for the city to include them into the ETJ.
Throughout the year, Miller has worked with area property owners by explaining ETJ inclusion has no effect on tax rate or how the property owner provides utility services. Essentially, including property into an ETJ simply means no other municipality can annex it, and as long as the annexations are voluntary, a city can expand its ETJ as much as it is able to.
Protecting the borders
Decades ago, Conroe conducted a series of annexations to create a one-foot strip of land down FM 1488 so that one day, it could expand outward as the land developed, said Magnolia City Administrator Paul Mendes. Before mandates were put in place during the 76th Legislature in 1999, cities could annex narrow strips of territory to protect perceived areas of growth from being annexed by nearby municipalities.
“Conroe got the right of way down FM 1488 that ends at Windcrest National,” Miller said. “When they hit a population of 50,000, their ETJ extended to five miles. Right now their ETJ goes to about
Now, Magnolia is working hard to protect the remaining unincorporated, unclaimed land on FM 1488 to bring more sales tax revenue into the city. Obtaining land populated with businesses or undeveloped land with the potential of housing businesses is more profitable for a city to annex than a residential area.
When a city annexes an existing neighborhood into its city limits, it has about two years to provide all services to it, which could potentially mean millions of dollars spent on relocating and improving water or sewage systems.
“Magnolia could have protested, but I do not think they realized Conroe had [moved inward] so much,” Mendes said. “It was a smart economic move on Conroe’s part.”
Luis Nunez, Conroe city planner, said right now Conroe is focusing on the Hwy. 105 West corridor, specifically in the April Sound subdivision.
Nunez said Conroe has no immediate plans for city annexation in the FM 1488 corridor near Magnolia. If Conroe was interested in taking more territory on FM 1488 it would have to draft a three-year annexation plan, which has not been drafted or discussed.
Although Conroe holds a significant portion of the road from I-45 close to Hwy. 149, the cities do have the option of an ETJ exchange.
“There are also no immediate plans for [that to happen],” Nunez said. “But it has occurred before.”
In West Montgomery County, the borders of Conroe, Magnolia and The Woodlands can seem blurred. City Secretary Lynne George said Magnolia receives numerous calls from residents who believe they are city residents, but in fact live even outside of the ETJ.
A common misconception is how addresses are assigned. Mendes said because ZIP Codes are decided by the post office, a municipality does not control what residents have as the city name on their address. In large urban areas such as Houston, the lines are more defined. But in rural areas, residency can become more confusing.
“If Conroe annexes the land down FM 1488 where the ZIP Codes are ‘Magnolia,’ they will remain Magnolia addresses,” Miller said. “It’s not up to the city to decide.”
Greg Holcombe with Holcombe Properties Real Estate Company said he deals with the confusion regarding FM 1488 on a regular basis with businesses and developers. The cross section of the three entities as well as a myriad of school districts—Magnolia ISD, Conroe ISD, Tomball ISD and Montgomery ISD—seems contradictory to the Magnolia ZIP codes.
“What’s really strange is no one really understood that Conroe was taking areas into its ETJ until it was already done,” he said.