Pockets of land in Hays County landlocked by a city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), also known as “donut hole” parcels, can cause trouble for residents and cities alike.
In the 1980s, the city of Austin began expanding its ETJ, slowly encroaching on Hays County residents.
More than 30 years ago, those residents had a choice – join Austin, Dripping Springs or be left in an unincorporated area of the county.
These annexation practices eventually left some parcels of land out of the city limits. Fewer city protections also means fewer regulations for developers, too.
“The city ordinances we are able to apply in the ETJ are limited,” said Ginger Faught, deputy city administrator for the city of Dripping Springs. “We don’t have the authority to apply land use regulations like zoning in the ETJ. The legislature has not given cities or counties authority to dictate land use, and that can become problematic for property owners.”
One example of this limited regulation occurred in the Rimrock neighborhood in Driftwood, where residents were greeted with a pair of 40-foot tall billboard signs.
Since the property was not located in the ETJ, the city could not enforce its sign ordinance, which did not allow billboards.
For Deborah Williams, a resident on Brownson Lane in Dripping Springs, living outside of the city limits is a two-sided coin.
“We wanted to live out here so we can be away from the city, but at the same time that allows developers to come out here and build with almost no repercussions,” Williams said. “We can’t continue to hope that these (developers) can be our good neighbors.”
Brownson Lane is a street situated in a “donut hole.” It is completely surrounded by land in the Dripping Springs ETJ, including parcels across the street 40 feet away on RR12.
When a developer nearly purchased a plot of land to build an RV park on Brownson Lane, nearby residents began to fear that there was nothing the county or city could do to help them.
According to Williams, the developer backed away from the agreement, and the land was never sold. But she worries someone else could come and try to develop with the same intentions.
Changes in these annexation laws would have to happen at the legislative level; while bills are introduced every session to help give general law cities more authority, none have seen the light of day.
Faught said the west side of Dripping Springs does not have an extended ETJ because it did not have to deal with the encroachment by the city of Austin over three decades ago.
“People don’t really see the difference between living in the ETJ or city limits until you’re confronted with some of these issues,” Faught said.