By Joe Reavis
A baker’s dozen of area cities, including Murphy, continue to be at odds with Collin County commissioners on whether they have control of construction just outside city limits and brought up the issue again recently.
The 13 cities sent a letter to county commissioners encouraging cooperation to develop processes and procedures allowing cities to issue building permits within their extraterritorial jurisdiction areas to ensure that structures are built in compliance with city construction codes.
Collin County contends that Texas law does not provide for the issuance of building permits in rural areas, including an ETJ.
“Your assumption is that your ETJ is eventually going to be part of the city,” Murphy Mayor Eric Barna said.
He explains that his concern is for basic public safety in those rural areas, especially if they are taken into a city’s boundaries in the future.
“Our fire code is much higher than the county’s,” Barna said.
State law provides that a city can claim jurisdiction at prescribed distances outside city limits in order to promote and protect the general health, safety and welfare of persons residing in and adjacent to their towns.
Prescribed distances are based on the size of a city, extending from one-half mile outside the city’s boundaries to as much as five miles for the largest towns.
In the case of Murphy, which is only five square miles in size, there is not much area left in its extraterritorial jurisdiction.
“What we have left, you couldn’t even put a subdivision on,” Barna said. “We’re not going to have an issue with ETJ.”
The mayor explained that ETJ is a bigger issue with cities in the eastern part of the county that are still surrounded by rural acreage, much of it currently being developed.
“For the most part, residents of Murphy are happy. We are contained and have local control on how we spend our tax money,” the Murphy mayor added.
Dating to an agreement with the county in 2002, cities in Collin County have the authority to approve or deny development plats as far as they deal with infrastructure such as streets and utilities, and zoning. However, the cities argue that they also have the authority to issue building permits, but the county has to agree to that authority before it can be exercised.
“It has to do with a question of what we believe the law says,” County Commissioner Cheryl Williams, Precinct 2, said. “We think it is a stretch and we are not prepared to enter into an agreement.”
Williams cites a lawsuit filed against the city of McKinney as the reason the permitting issues has been raised again. McKinney is opposed to a luxury recreation vehicle park planned in its ETJ and the park’s developer has sued the city to proceed with the project.
Collin County sought an opinion from the Texas Attorney General to settle the ETJ oversight issue but that opinion most likely will be delayed until after the lawsuit is settled.
“We are going to continue the practice we have for the past 10 years,” Williams said. “If the litigation shows differently, we will comply.”
She also pointed out that if commissioners should side with McKinney about the authority to issue, or deny, building permits in rural areas the county could end up as a defendant in the current lawsuit.
For several years, county commissioners have been unanimous in their disagreement with what they see is an unprecedented expansion of municipal regulatory powers, but the mayors contend they already have the authority to regulate ETJ construction but Collin County has put up a roadblock.
“I wasn’t surprised by the response of county commissioners. They’ve made it know before,” Barna said.
In their letter to commissioners, the mayors pointed out that regulation of development in an ETJ is “vital in protecting people, property and emergency responders in the event of an emergency. Moreover’ municipal fire departments provide emergency response services within an ETJ.”
For example, city ordinances provide that structures meet established fire codes and construction standards. Without ETJ regulatory authority, structures could be built that fall short on safety.
Responding to the mayors’ letter, commissioners stated: “While it is clear that municipalities have the right to reasonably regulate activities inside the city, there is a policy argument that persons residing outside the city should not be burdened by such regulations. Principles of private property rights are more than implicated in such discussions.”
In addition to Murphy, mayors signing the letter presented to county commissioners represented McKinney, Allen, Celina, Lavon, Melissa, Princeton, Farmersville, Fairview, Frisco, Anna, Plano and Wylie.