Manvel experienced growing pains in 2014 as city leaders struggled to balance the need for proactive planning with the desire of many citizens to maintain the rural character that most moved to the area to enjoy. A transformation to a more urban community appears imminent and it may be safe to posit that years from now 2014 may prove to be the year the impending boom took root. No one episode better recalls the conflict than city council’s decision in March to direct the city staff to develop a plan for annexation of roughly 3,750 acres, which approximated 21% of the city’s land area.
In making the proposal for council’s consideration, City Manager Kyle Jung explained the benefit of annexation as allowing the city to control the kinds of land uses through the implementation of the city’s zoning ordinances. Development in the city’s Extra Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ), where the proposed land is located, does not allow for any city zoning authority. The city would also realize both city ad valorem taxes and potential sales taxes generated from development in the annexed areas.
While the action of council did not technically authorize the annexations – it merely sanctioned their investigation – affected citizens did not understand that and in public hearings that were required to be conducted hostility toward elected officials, and perhaps most pointedly to the city manager, was in plain display. Mayor Martin proclaimed that citizens will need to come forward and be vocal about how they feel if they were not in favor of the proposed annexations. Hundreds took the mayor’s advice as large crowd easily filled the sanctuary of Manvel’s Church of the Harvest to voice their displeasure with city council’s idea of annexing approximately 3,750 acres of land. The first public hearings on the notion was wisely relocated from city hall to accommodate the large crowd.
One speaker well summarized the crowd’s state of mind by telling council simply to “leave us alone.” Some related their preferred lifestyles of country living, such things as shooting firearms, discharging fireworks, and raising livestock, that would be disallowed if annexed into the city. Threats of lawsuits and diligent efforts to unseat any council member who votes in favor of an annexation were repeatedly expressed. Ironically it was council member Melody Hanson who pointed out that current residents in the city’s ETJ do not enjoy the privilege of voting in city elections. She made the point that the affected citizens would get representation through the annexations, saying “they get a chance to vote and have a say in this city and they get a chance to run for office if they wish. Right now they are impacted by what we do but they have no say in what we do.”
A common concern expressed by many was that the city is unable to provide services in return for the taxes that will be borne. Many expressed a view that the city is barely able to maintain its infrastructure on current residents, let alone taking on another 5.75 square miles. Another typical comment was essentially that the annexation plan is little more than a money grab for the city. While the potential for future property and sales taxes was certainly an influence, perhaps more importantly from a city planning point of view is the control allowed on future development. Before the annexations, property outside the city limits was not subject to city zoning ordinances which precluded the city from any input on future development. With no control on the incursion of unbridled development, current and future residents, including those in the proposed annexed areas, would have no choice but to live with whatever type of business or structure a property owner decided to construct. Annexations would also allow the city to control the major thoroughfares and intersections so that order in the transportation plan is established proactively rather than reactively.
Council member Hanson made the case that annexation is in keeping with what council has been doing in recent years. “All the things we have put in place, the city’s Comprehensive Plan, the City Charter, the Transportation Plan, the drainage studies and GIS mapping system have all been the frameworks put in place and when you have a city that is dotted around its perimeters with these smaller areas, for me it is an issue of land control. I know that has positives and negatives depending on one’s perspective. But we as a city have been putting these things in place and I know it is frustrating because when you look around it seems like we have not made a lot of progress, but a lot of the stuff we have been working at here is putting the policies and procedures in place so that when growth comes, and it is coming, will be able to handle it. We are trying to address a lot of problems before they get here.”
Hanson went on to refute those who claim the city’s desire for annexation is merely a tax grab, saying “I can tell you it is not. We as a council every year have the opportunity to raise the tax rate and we don’t even have to get voter approval for it. We have a balanced budget and we’ve had a balanced budget as long as I have been a member of council.” She reminded those in attendance that the tax rate has not been raised in six years. She touted the city’s high bond rating “because we put the procedures in place and we have been very fiscally prudent with the tax payer money.”
Hanson continued her thoughts saying “we on council were elected to represent the 7000 people that currently live here, and that is what we are doing our best to do. We don’t get paid and we spend long hours and all of us take this job very, very seriously.”
Council ultimately took an objective look at the future and considered two primary reasons to consider annexations. One was to turn back Brazoria County ESD #3’s anticipated effort to impose a sales tax throughout their entire district and to control future land use in areas along current and proposed major thoroughfares, thereby allowing city planners the ability to implement zoning regulations in the annexed areas to control both development and traffic flow.
In all council approved seven ordinances with each including unique areas. Member Lew Shuffler reminded that council ultimately approved just 981 acres from the originally proposed 3750. Member Larry Akery said that when citizens approved a city charter and made Manvel a home-rule city, “a majority of the people knew this was going to happen.” The vote on each ordinance was 4-2 with Mayor Delores Martin and Council Member Adrian Gaspar voting no. Gaspar said that he has learned one thing while serving on council: “it’s very hard to please everybody but it is very easy to tick everybody off.”
Continuing with the challenges of coming development, a steering committee worked to review and update the city’s Comprehensive plan. A key point of discussion was the determination of building lot sizes on residential lots and how it could affect the city’s development. Mayor Delores Martin fears a requirement for larger lots will “go over to the homeowner and if lots are more expensive it could end up being a deterrent to the developers coming here.” Martin believes a shrewd developer will want a diversity of lots and believes “not everybody wants a big lot. Some of our senior citizens do not want any lot at all. They want a patio home, a postage stamp, they don’t want grass to cut. People want diversity.” Not all on council agree with the mayor. Council member Adrian Gaspar supports the recommendation of PD&Z for a larger lot size saying he moved here for the rural character. He favors a lower density in development and wants the extra room it would provide. Member Lew Shuffler favors a larger lot size for the cosmetic look of the city. Council is expected to formally accept a new Comprehensive Plan in the early months of 2015.
A critical piece of the city’s infrastructure that will allow for commercial development to follow the residential rooftops that are in the pipeline is the installation of water and sewer lines down state highway 6 to 288. Manvel’s Economic Development Corporation authorized the bulk of funding to cover the cost of the improvements which are expected to be available in the first months of 2015. The infrastructure project has been in the works since April 2012 and will provide a 12” water line and a 24” gravity sewer line on the north side of State Hwy 6. Service will also be installed on the south side. For years commercial development has been stifled in Manvel due to the inability of the city to provide water and sewer infrastructure. With its availability the city is far more likely to see significant retail development in the near future, including a grocery store that so many clamor for.
Meanwhile, setting the stage for the city’s commercial prospects, Lakeland continues to sell homes nearly as fast as they are complete. Sedona Lakes has begun construction in new phases and like Lakeland is enjoying robust sales. At the end of the year, Pamona received its final approvals from city council to begin construction of infrastructure and its first model homes. Sales are expected to commence in mid-2015. Other new developments are expected to begin in 2015 as well and the established Rodeo Palms development will see the resumption of construction after finally completing their water well improvements that were the cause of a building moratorium being placed on the development for more than a year.
2014 will likely prove to have been a significant year in Manvel’s development. Many important ordinances and plans were either passed into law or were introduced to soon be determined.
The city is poised to see substantial growth and city leaders will no doubt continue to grapple with the tough decisions that will determine the type of community Manvel will grow into.