Texas Rising March/April 2010

Control in the ETJ

Cities, counties have options to simplify development

What is an ETJ?

According to the Texas Local Government Code, an extraterritorial jurisdiction of a municipality is the unincorporated area contiguous to the city’s corporate boundaries. The ETJ’s distance from the city limits is determined by the city’s population.

ETJ radius from city limitsMunicipal population
0.5 miles <5,000
1 mile 5,000-24,999
2 miles 25,000-49,999
3.5 miles 50,000-99,999
5 miles >100,000

By Gerard MacCrossan

What’s the purpose of extraterritorial jurisdiction? State policy to “designate certain areas as the extraterritorial jurisdiction of municipalities to promote and protect the general health, safety, and welfare of persons residing in and adjacent to the municipalities.” (Texas Local Government Code Sec. 42.001.)

Reconciling county and municipal development standards is just as complex as it sounds. For many communities, Chapter 242 of the Texas Local Government Code means that cities and counties must decide who will regulate subdivision platting and permitting where their authority overlaps in municipal extraterritorial jurisdictions (ETJ), land outside the city’s boundary that could be annexed in the future.

Without such a deal, property owners who want to plat a tract of land or develop a subdivision may have to deal with both city and county regulators and try to determine which way to turn when city and county rules conflict.

Every City has an ETJ Interlocal Agreement

Since 2008, Parker County in North Texas has taken a proactive approach to the issue, developing a draft interlocal agreement to bring it and its municipal neighbors into compliance with state law. Leslie Coufal, who heads Parker County’s Platting Department, has been tasked with communicating with the county’s dozen or so municipalities to broker agreements over who’ll be responsible for ETJ plat review and subdivision regulation.

Local Government

Tools That Make a Difference

What are the options for cities and counties to regulate ETJ platting?

Cities and counties have four options for regulating subdivision plats and permitting in the extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) of a municipality under Texas Local Government Code Chapter 242.

  1. The municipality will regulate subdivision plats and approve related permits in the ETJ.
  2. The county will regulate subdivision plats and approve related permits in the ETJ.
  3. The municipality and the county may assign authority for part of the ETJ to the city and the rest of the ETJ to the county.
  4. The municipality and the county may establish a single set of ETJ regulations related to plats, subdivision construction plans and subdivisions of land. They also would enter into an interlocal agreement that: establishes one office that accepts plat applications for tracts of land located in the ETJ; collects municipal and county plat application fees in a single payment; and provides applicants one response indicating approval or denial of the plat application.

Find Texas Local Government Code Chapter 242 and other statutes online.

“When the platting office was created, the county attorney approached me and asked that I reach out to the cities,” Coufal says. “Our practice is that both city and county review until agreement is reached. At this point, the commissioners are willing to give the ETJ control to the cities because the cities are requesting that.”

Agreement on the principle and agreeing on the development standards are two different things, however. When municipal and county subdivision regulations disagree, state law provides for the stricter regulation to be upheld, which can create divisiveness among the entities involved.

“If a city wants subdivisions to put in roads to city standards, counties can’t afford to maintain them,” Coufal says. “However, some cities don’t have a problem with the county’s road regulations being applied in the ETJ.”

ETJ Authority Protects Cities from Development on Their Doorstep

Two of Parker County’s small municipalities – Annetta and Sanctuary – have already signed an ETJ regulation agreement with the county. Another, Willow Park, wants to pursue a unified development office with Parker County.

Annetta Mayor Phil Lumsden says several factors convinced city officials that assuming control in the ETJ would best serve the municipality and county, and he praised the county for its willingness to work with his city.

“The county is less stringent and we wanted to go the more strenuous route,” he says. “We received assistance from the county attorney and we went with his advice. It was relatively cut and dried, and the county has fewer headaches this way.”

In early summer 2010, Annetta’s council tackled the first new development since the interlocal agreement for ETJ regulation was signed in 2009. Lumsden says the developer’s initial intention was to create one-acre tracts with individual wells and septic systems. But between the city’s subdivision regulations and the Upper Trinity Groundwater Authority’s minimum lot-size rules, the developer will likely have to pursue alternative options for water – either two-acre lots or a central water system.

As a general-law city of about 1,800 residents, Annetta can’t annex land unless the property owner requests it, so having authority in the ETJ serves to protect it from minimally regulated development on its doorstep.

Several other cities also are negotiating their options with the county.

Among them is Annetta North, adjacent to Annetta. Rob Watson, mayor of the 500-resident community, says his city also plans to enter into an agreement with the county to permit the city to review subdivision plats in its ETJ.

“The city submitted an initial draft agreement and after review, the county suggested some revisions,” he says. “The city and county will work together and compare ordinances and regulation requirements to finalize the agreement so we can help maintain the lifestyle our residents enjoy.”

Potential Annexation a Factor for Home Rule Cities

City officials in Weatherford, the county seat, have been working with Coufal and County Attorney John Forrest on an ETJ agreement. As well as formal city-county meetings, City Planner Troy Anderson says he met with the city engineer, the director of public works, the assistant city manager and the planning director to determine conflicts that might exist between the city and county regulations.

“We laid out the concerns of those departments and then prepared a revised agreement,” Anderson says. “The city [of 27,000] has been progressive in trying to provide alternatives for larger estate-type roadways by not requiring concrete curb and gutter that you might expect to find within a city.”

He says that an agreement will be reached, but it won’t be rushed to ensure it is appropriate and fair for all parties. “From the city’s perspective, we want to make sure the best interests of citizens of the city and the ETJ are ultimately addressed,” he says. “We want everything in order. We’re treading slowly at this point, but without any annexation plans in the immediate future, we’re not in an immediate hurry. But it is something we want to work with the county – we want to be proactive and get this through as quickly as possible.” TR

You can read the statute determining the boundaries of a municipal ETJ in the Texas Local Government Code Chapter 42.022 online.