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Council votes in support of partial dis-annexation

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The Elgin City Council unanimously voted to give direction to city staff to proceed with plans to dis-annex half of an area of land southeast of town annexed in 2015 and to begin working on plans to extend wastewater service to the other half.

In 2015, the City of Elgin annexed about 212 acres between the railroad tracks and South State Highway 95 in an apparent strategy to counter Bastrop’s northward expansion. According to Texas state law, the city must provide all available city services to the annexed area within five years; in this case, Elgin is required to provide these services by 2020, which would cost an estimated $2,750,000.

One proposed alternative to building this project is disannexing the area. At a previous meeting, city staff recommended a compromise: all property west of the railroad tracks, known as Area 2, would be retained, while the property east of the railroad tracks, known as Area 3, would be dis-annexed.

The estimated costs for constructing a wastewater system for this area is about $2.2 million, not taking into account potential partnerships with developments in the area such as Trinity Ranch.

In exchange for dis-annexation, property owners would be required to sign a settlement or development agreement specifically saying the property would not be developed, all development regulations and planning authority of the city would remain applicable, the property would only be used for single-family residential uses and no refund of property taxes would be sought.

Area 3 is comprised of 40 properties with 38 different property owners. As of the time of last week’s meeting, the city received a response from 47 percent of the letters sent to property owners; 35 percent either signed the agreement or indicated their support and eight percent opposed the agreement. A couple of the property owners could not be reached.

Mayor Pro-Tem Jessica Bega asked if those who have signed these development agreements will have to anything else in the near future. City manager Thomas Mattis responded that that would be the next conversation to have, depending on what the council decides.

Before beginning last week’s discussion, Mayor Chris Cannon said if the council’s conversation starts moving towards providing wastewater services to the area, they need to “get the ball rolling” on that project. Mattis said the city staff needs policy direction from the council in order to move forward so that, if needed, a wastewater system for the area could be designed and built.

Council member Sue Brashar calculated that, with the same $52,000 per year in city taxes gathered from the area over the past few years, it will take over 40 years to recoup the $2.2 million needed to be spent on the wastewater system. Mattis said all of the ratepayers of the city would fund the project, which is no different from how other government projects work.

“This year, a project gets built in front of your house that you may benefit from, all the ratepayers come together and pool their resources to pay for that cost,” Mattis said. “Next year, costs from your water bill will fund a water line that’s on the other side of town. That’s the way all government works.”

“There’s no question that the city will recover this money over time,” he added. “That’s the difference between government and businesses; this isn’t necessarily a great return on investment … but over the long haul we will recover that money.”

Council member Forest Dennis asked if residents are required to tie into the system once it’s built. City engineer Beau Perry responded that generally, they can keep using their existing septic system until it needs to be replaced, in which case they would have to connect to the city’s system. Perry added that most people connect to a city’s wastewater system once it is in place.

Jones made a motion to proceed with the dis-annexation of Area 3.

Before proceeding with the motion, Cannon asked if the city could still dis-annex a property, even if the property owner doesn’t sign the development agreement; Mattis said they can. The motion passed unanimously.

Next, Brashar made a motion to proceed with wastewater improvements for Area 2, which passed unanimously.

Although the council voted to continue in this direction, Mattis emphasized that this is not the final action for the council on this issue. This decision gives city staff the direction they need for the time being.

“This isn’t the final (decision) tonight,” Mattis said. “We’re dealing with something very unique and unusual and something Elgin has never done before. This direction council has provided gives the staff clarity about what the next steps are, but I encourage you to continue to monitor the situation.”

City plans to cut back on private property maintenance

The council debated removing certain private properties from the city’s mowing and maintenance schedule.

In response to confusion about why are some areas mowed and not others, city staff went through the city’s mowing schedule and identified 80 different areas that are being mowed by the city. Many of these areas are mowed by the city for safety or other reasons; however, 30 of these areas were found to not have any reason why the city mows it instead of the property owner. As a result, some private properties were being mowed, while other properties whose grass had not been cut were sent notices for not being in code, giving the appearance of inconsistency. It is the responsibility of the property owner to mow and maintain the right-of-way adjacent to their property.

The city has two full-time year-round employees to mow and maintain grass, along with two full-time seasonal employees. This means the city’s mowing schedule is about three weeks long, almost enough time for grass in the growing season to come into violation with city code, so the city can’t add any more mowing locations to its schedule.

The council was asked to give direction whether the city should continue to mow them or ask the property owners to mow them.

Brashar asked if the people on the list who own the properties that might be taken off the list would be notified to let them know it’s now their responsibility to mow this part of their property. She also pointed out that some people on the list had passed away.

Mattis responded by saying they would take a practical approach to asking people to mow these areas and be open to suggestions.

“I think it’s going to take some individual hand-holding to not make people upset,” he said.

Council member Mary Penson brought up an issue with the strip of land between Madison Street and the back of seven properties on Martin Luther King Boulevard. She said this strip of land is inaccessible from the back of their properties and requires the property owners to go all the way around the block to mow that area behind the fence.

Regarding the list of areas that are proposed to not be mowed by the city anymore, Brashar said she would rather tell property owners who ask that they are responsible for mowing their own property than tell them there is a list of properties being mowed by the city for free.

“I can’t fathom writing people tickets right now for not mowing their grass, but paying our staff to mow others’,” she said.

After a little more discussion of the details of the issue, Dennis called for a motion to direct staff to stop mowing these properties after thirty days or after one more mowing, to notify the property owners that after that period the mowing would be their responsibility, and allow property owners to bring challenges to the city if they believe there is a reasonable reason for the city to continue mowing the area.

Update shared on junk vehicle enforcement

A citizen brought a complaint about the enforcement of the junked vehicle ordinance to the council, while Mattis presented an updated about the initiative.

A junked vehicle is any motor vehicle that is wrecked, dismantled or discarded, or has remained inoperable for more than 72 hours on public property or 30 days on private property, and does not have an unexpired license plate and valid motor vehicle inspection certificate. The city code defines these as a public nuisance and prohibits them from being in public view. The council has been discussing the initiative to enforce the city’s ordinances about junked vehicles since April.

Joseph Perkins, who lives on Gettysburg Loop, spoke to the council last week about how his vehicles had been towed by code enforcement. He said police red-tagged his vehicle in May and he moved it to his driveway.

Last month, Perkins came home to find that car and another car missing and thought they were stolen. He argued that his vehicles were not a public nuisance and should not have been towed out of his driveway for having an expired inspection sticker.

“To make a long story short, I did abide by what (the police officers) asked me to do,” Perkins said. “If they would have put a tag on my car and told me that I needed to update the sticker on my car, I would have done that as well.”

Later during the meeting, during the city manager’s report, Mattis gave an update on the junk vehicle code enforcement initiative.

He said the city code being enforced has existed for a long time, and a vehicle without a valid registration or valid license plate is “by definition a junk vehicle, inoperable” even if it is mechanically functional since it cannot be driven. Additionally, a public nuisance means it is visible from a public place, even if it is on private property.

Since EPD and the code enforcement began working together for this initiative in May, police have issued five red tags and code enforcement has issued 22 green tags. In many cases, vehicle owners were given verbal warnings and came into compliance without issuing any stickers. Four vehicles had been towed due to noncompliance, and 59 owners voluntarily brought their vehicles into compliance by repairing or removing the vehicle.

“It’s never our goal to tow a vehicle,” Mattis said. “Our goal is to get the problem addressed. I think these numbers provide evidence that most people want to bring (their vehicles) into compliance and have done so.”

He added he couldn’t speak to the particulars of Perkins’ case, but is satisfied with how it was handled after being briefed by staff on the issue.

As part of the initiative, EPD and code enforcement are focusing on patrol district at a time. So far, they have started with patrol district #1, which includes the Shenandoah, County Line and more neighborhoods. This week, they will begin focusing on patrol districts 2 and 3, which covers the northwest and northeast sides of town.

Proposed plan for public art presented

Emily Koller, chair of the Elgin Main Street Program Design Committee, presented the committee’s plan for bringing more public art to downtown Elgin.

“This is the culmination of a year and a half of work,” Koller said.

The committee began this work in late 2017, focusing on public art to enhance the appeal and vibrancy of the downtown area. The goals of the plan are to increase visitors to downtown and celebrate Elgin’s uniqueness.

“Public art is about really creating an emotional connection to a place,” Koller said. “This area is growing quickly, and people are looking for places to escape from Austin. This can help us be a community of choice.”

The plan outlines guidelines for proposed public art, a process for submitting art proposals for the downtown area and identifies the community’s priorities for public art based on feedback from the community members about what kind of art they want to see. Feedback from community members showed they are most interested in landscaping and functional art, such as benches.

Koller shared photographs from past feedback-gathering events, from an open house in January 2018 to a pop-up mural event during last month’s Sip, Shop & Stroll.

“This has been all about community engagement from the beginning,” she said. “Public art in other communities is often defined by its location in the public realm. But here in Elgin, we have been all about engaging the public about what’s going to be installed from the beginning.”