Coryell County commissioners vote to re-send ETJ agreement between County and City of Copperas Cove
By BRITTANY FHOLER
The Coryell County Commissioners discussed and ultimately voted to re-send a proposed ETJ Subdivision Agreement between the county and the city of Copperas Cove during their regular meeting Tuesday morning.
An ETJ, or extra-territorial jurisdiction, is a defined area outside of a city’s city limits. For Copperas Cove, the ETJ extends two miles outside of the city limits. State statutes require an agreement between the city and county determining who has the authority to approve subdivision plats, etc. within the ETJ.
County Commissioners officially requested to terminate the interlocal agreement with Copperas Cove during the summer after a lack of coordination between the city and the county for years prior. During a meeting in September 2021, the commissioners directed County Attorney Brandon Belt to work with the city to prepare a new interlocal agreement.
During a November 2021 city council meeting, the city council heard from City Manager Ryan Haverlah about an agenda item to approve authority for subdivisions and platting between the city and the county within the ETJ. The city’s authority in the ETJ includes land use review authority to ensure areas that will one day be part of the incorporated city limits, through what is known as annexation, will be kept within a level of standard used within the city limits. Coryell County is responsible for the construction inspection and maintenance of the infrastructure in the city’s ETJ.
State law has changed in recent legislative sessions, which has changed the ability of cities to unilaterally annex land within the ETJ. Instead, the annexations are required to be approved via election of the property owners proposed to be annexed involuntarily.
During the city council’s November 16 meeting, the city attorney suggested the council amend the ordinance to require subdividers in the ETJ to get a certificate from the county stating they have given the county notice of their plat filing, and council members provided the city manager with direction to work on amending the ordinance to reflect this requirement. A new agreement had not been approved by council yet though.
County Road and Bridge Director Justin Latham said during Tuesday’s meeting that while the cities of Gatesville and Copperas Cove are communicating some with the county about the ETJ, the current agreement is not beneficial for the county
“In the grand scheme of things, none of this is good for the county,” Latham said. “The cities don’t care about the ETJ any more now that voting is required now to annex.”
Latham said he provided the Commissioners with three examples of past issues between the county and city, such as a plat for a subdivision on Lutheran Church Road in the ETJ that was organized by Copperas Cove that the county had no input on. The subdivision uses three county roads, he added.
“These lots are two-acre lots. That should have been a true subdivision,” Latham said.
Lutheran Church Road has anywhere between 1,500 and 1,800 cars per day traveling it, with a 30-foot right of way, and now there are seven entrances and mailboxes along a 30-foot right of way with an 18-foot-wide pavement, Latham said.
“Let’s put that in perspective- 18 foot wide. You know it takes 8-foot per car to meet each other, so 16, so you’ve got about six-inches of clearance,” Latham added. “This is one of our collector roads, main roads, that this is a problem on. Mostly, it was an unpaved dirt road. I get phone calls all the time of, when are y’all going to pave that.”
Latham added that there’s a drainage issue off Herzog Mountain Lane that “is probably going to put us into a lawsuit at some point in time because the city was allowed to approve this.”
Reata Ranch is also an example of subdivision that the County said they didn’t know about until they came across the development. Phase II of Reata Ranch was just completed in June.
“There’s a large amount of mass confusion between us and the cities,” Latham said. “What building criteria are you building to? Who’s supposed to be inspecting it?”
Latham said that the county conveyed its jurisdiction authority to the cities, but “if the cities aren’t upholding their end of it, we need to take that authority back, in my opinion.”
Latham added that some of the areas would be better if the city managed them, but more often than not, it is better to let the county know because it ends up affecting the county roads.
“If you look at all the development that went out on this one plat here, that was our only chance to get right-of-way that we gave up now, because we just let the city do it and we never had no input on it,” Latham said. “You know, we could have got the right of way for Lutheran Church for nothing, for free, but we didn’t.”
“It’s not good for us,” Latham added. “I’m going to continually request this be put on the agenda until we get a vote on it or something, either yes or no…just give me direction. This point in time, it is causing safety issues. It is causing issues for the county.”
When County Judge Roger Miller questioned whether the county was getting emails or communication from the city and being included in their meetings regarding the current development, County Attorney Brandon Belt said, “Not on a consistent basis.”
Latham said it is confusing for the developers, who end up calling the county asking for information on design specifications.
“Perkins Mountain does not need to be built to city of Copperas Cove specs,” Latham said. “That road will never be a city Copperas Cove road, in the current situation we’re in, but yet, they’re approving the plat and they’re approving the design, and I’m going to get stuck with it as maintenance.”
Kyle Matthews said that the problem is communications in general or rather lack of.
“And they’re not following their own rules,” Belt said about Copperas Cove. He added that the city is not getting site and soil evaluations on the subdivisions that are going to be serviced by the sewage facility.
“The only ones we’re getting are the ones that Mr. Kriegel is doing because he knows we’re going to require them before we inspect the septic system in the subdivision,” Belt said. “I’ll just tell you, they’re not very pleasant to deal with. I have point blank looked the city engineer in the eye and said, ‘Where is the site and soil evaluation on this subdivision you signed off on?’ and he looked at me like I had three heads and never responded to my question.”
Belt added that he submitted an email as well requesting the site and soil evaluation, which has been required according to the city’s own subdivision regulations.
“They never got it. They never reviewed it. They don’t care,” Belt said. “That’s the problem.”
Belt added that he was done talking to the city of Copperas Cove about this issue.
“They claim that they’ve spoken to their attorney and their attorney has advised them of what they have to do and can and can’t do. That’s fine and dandy,” Belt said. “Commissioners Court would like to do something alike; we’ll send it to them. If they don’t like it. I’ll deal with their attorney.”
Miller said he attended a meeting with the city manager and the city’s Development Services Director Bobby Lewis, who were comfortable with the way the agreement was now. A proposal from the county submitted to be considered would have the county responsible for all subdivisions in the ETJ other than subdivisions that were the city was providing some type of utilities such as water, sewer, etc., in which case the city would take over those subdivisions. The city was not agreeable to that, Miller said.
Miller said that he would get with the county attorney and the county road and bridge director to go back over the agreement to present an item to the Commissioners that they can accept to be presented to the city of Copperas Cove for approval or not.
“Like Mr. Bell said, if they were not agreeable to that, then it would become a point of arbitration between the two,” Miller said.
The commissioners questioned whether to table any action on the item, until the agreement could be looked over again.
“The key thing is that we’ve learned historically that the subdivisions being approved without our input subjects us to future roadway costs, future maintenance costs- look at the Road District number one, I mean, we’ve still got to get that thing closed out,” Miller said. “It’s got to be a cooperative effort, and again, it in my mind it is more of who is assuming the liability for the long-term maintenance and upkeep with the subdivisions that are being built.”
Commissioners ultimately approved a motion to resend the proposed ETJ agreement to Copperas Cove for consideration. The county will request a response from the city and then present a document for the court to consider in the near future.