Lake Austin property owners sued, then filed legislation, while Lost Creek voted to start legislative efforts
This story was updated at 4:22pm February 10, 2021, to include a statement from the City of Austin.
Updated again at 5:16pm February 10, 2021, to correct the source of payment for a patrol provided by the Travis County Sheriff’s Office.
Owners of shoreline property along Lake Austin sued the City of Austin and Austin Community College January 30, 2021. Among the 21 items included in a request for a final judgment, the lawsuit seeks to force the City to disannex the shoreline properties, bar the City from collecting taxes, and bar ACC from collecting taxes for those properties within the Eanes or Lake Travis school districts. The federal lawsuit (Case No. 1:21-CV-00095) was first reported by the Austin American-Statesman February 2, 2021.
In addition the Lake Austin plaintiffs are pushing for legislative relief through a bill filed by State Representative Tom Craddick (R-Midland). Craddick has served in the Texas Legislature for more than 50 years and was speaker of the House from January 2003 to January 2009. On February 5, 2021 he filed HB 1653. The caption states the bill relates to “disannexation of certain areas that do not receive municipal services.”
If staving off a federal lawsuit and legislation to keep its taxing powers over the Lake Austin shoreline properties weren’t enough to keep the City busy, now comes the Lost Creek Neighborhood Association that’s lining up legislative support to disannex its some 1,200 homes, country club, and park situated along Lost Creek Boulevard off Loop 360.
After years of resisting annexation, Lost Creek became part of the City of Austin December 15, 2015.
At a well-attended January 31, 2021, online meeting of the Lost Creek Neighborhood Association, members voted overwhelmingly to support disannexation through legislation. Neighborhood Association President Eric Castro told The Austin Bulldog in a telephone interview Monday the members voted to approve funding not to exceed $30,000 to support legislative efforts.
At The Austin Bulldog’s request, a City spokesperson provided this response regarding Lost Creek, received after the story was published:
“Lost Creek had not approached the City with their desire to seek legislation to disannex. With that said, disannexation would not only impact Lost Creek, it would also impact the City and its residents and taxpayers as a whole. Therefore, the City is currently reviewing the potential impacts to the various services provided by the City and the impact to residents and taxpayers that contribute to support those services should Lost Creek disannex.”
Lost Creek disannexation origins
Lawyer-lobbyist William Ryan Brannan is a resident of Lost Creek and made the presentation in favor of disannexation at the Neighborhood Association meeting. He tested the waters starting last December through a petition on Change.org
In a telephone interview Monday, Brannan said, he “floated the petition to see if there was traction and quickly obtained 1,200 signatures.”
The only argument about moving forward without disannexation were from people who fought earlier annexation battles and lost. “They have scar tissue,” he said.
Brannan said after both sides presented their cases, presenters answered questions from the board and members. Then the members voted 154-15 in favor of supporting disannexation efforts.
Brannan is the founder and principal of the Brannan Firm specializing in government affairs and serves as counsel to the law firm Glast Phillips & Murray. His website indicates he was appointed three times to serve as the Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation by Governors Rick Perry and Greg Abbott, both Republicans.
He is a lobbyist registered with the Texas Ethics Commission. Online commission records indicate that in 2019 he represented the Association for Responsible Alternatives to Workers’ Compensation, Coastal Windstorm Insurance Coalition, EOG Resources, National Interstate Council of State Boards of Cosmetology, Parsley Energy Operations LLC, Reed Group Ltd., Rig Up Inc., Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, Texas Physical Therapy Association, Troxclair PC, Kyle Stallings, and Lee Woods.
Brannan said he is working on the disannexation effort with another lobbyist who lives in Lost Creek, Drew Lawson of Lawson Strategies. The firm’s website states, “Lawson Strategies played a central role in the successful effort to maintain Republican majorities in Texas. He is a former director of the Texas for Lawsuit Reforms PAC.
Lawson’s 2019 lobby registration records filed with the Texas Ethics Commission indicates he represented Texans for Lawsuit Reform and the Texas Apartment Association.
Neighborhood Association supports legislation
Materials that Brannan presented on behalf of those advocating disannexation claims a commitment to champion legislation has been obtained from State Senator Dawn Buckingham (R-Lakeway), who it seems grew up in Lost Creek. The senator’s office did not respond to a email and phone requests for confirmation.
Among the advantages of disannexation touted in the materials are an immediate savings in property taxes, cheaper trash service, return to fire protection from the Westlake Fire Department, return to law enforcement by the Travis County Sheriff’s Department, which the Lost Creek Limited District is currently paying for off-duty sheriff patrols because of a claimed increase in crime.
Escaping Austin’s control would also exempt the area from possible increased density mandates the City had been pushing through CodeNEXT and is now pursuing under a more benign title of Land Development Code Revision. The fate of that effort, aside from the City’s pending litigation appeal, will be up to a somewhat less enthusiastic City Council, as The Austin Bulldog reported January 19, 2020.
Materials presented by those opposing disannexation state that if there is compelling evidence that the City is not meeting its service plan then other statutes provide a remedy through Local Government Code Section 43.141. The material claims the Lost Creek Municipal Utility District (later renamed the Lost Creek Limited District) spent more than $250,000 pursuing unsuccessful legislative remedies 2005 through 2007 to forestall annexation.
The opponents material shows that Lost Creek residents would save $2,000 to $4,000 a year in property taxes if disannexed but notes that the Neighborhood Association’s initial support for legislative relief is just the beginning.
Lost Creek Limited District not involved
The Limited District was created by an election May 11, 2013. Its purpose is to allow Lost Creek to continue to maintain parks, trails, keep the Community Room and office, and continue to enforce deed restrictions, , according to information posted on the Lost Creek Limited District’s website.
The disannexation if successful may not affect the City’s Strategic Partnership Agreement with Lost Creek Limited District (formerly the Lost Creek Municipal Utility District). Andy Bitner, president of the District’s Board of Directors, told The Austin Bulldog in an email Tuesday, “The District is aware of the vote from the Neighborhood Association but does not have any position at this time” regarding disannexation.
Bitner pointed to Sections 2.02d and 9.05c of the Strategic Partnership Agreement. These provisions state the District consented to the City’s annexation and “will not challenge the City’s service plan and will not contest the City in its efforts to assure that future legislation does not prohibit, or impose additional requirements affected the City’s right to annex the District….”
Trust indicators: Ken Martin has been doing investigative reporting in the three-county Austin metro area since 1981. His aggressive reporting twice garnered first-place national awards from the National Newspaper Association for investigative reporting. Both of those projects resulted in successful felony criminal prosecutions, one for a Williamson County commissioner, the other for a con man based in Austin. You can read more about Ken on the About page.
Links to related documents:
House Bill 1653 filed by State Representative Tom Craddick, February 5, 2021 (2 pages)
Judy Howard and Brent Howard, et al v. City of Austin and Austin Community College, January 30, 2021 (74 pages)
Materials supporting disannexation presented to Lost Creek Neighborhood Association, January 31, 2021 (16 pages)
Materials opposing disannexation presented to Lost Creek Neighborhood Association, January 31, 2021 (9 pages)