Building a House in Texas
Collin County: Land battle over retirement home plans
Jason Wheeler, WFAA
COLLIN COUNTY, Texas - Looking out from the back porch, Susan Stauffer says the view from her dream home is almost perfect, except that it is not finished and the home really is just a dream.
“This was going to be the place where we basically wrapped up life and enjoyed ducks landing on the pond and the fish jumping, and now you see nothing but weeds growing, ” groaned her husband Harlan Stauffer. “We moved tons and tons of dirt to regrade this and build the berm for the house, ” he said.
The couple has put in a lot of work and money to start building a modest home, a barn that Stauffer calls, “My man cave.” The project was halted months ago. “The barn is all in crates here, ” he says because he and his wife were told they weren’t allowed to build on land that they have owned for three decades. “Dream of a lifetime has just been put to sunder by politicians, Stauffer said.
The Stauffer’s say they got all the required building permits from Collin County and they started construction. Before they could pour the foundation, they say they had to stop because they didn’t have an additional permit from the City of McKinney - something they didn’t feel like they needed since their property is outside the city limits.
“This is bullying by the city. There is no doubt about it, ” said Collin County Judge Keith Self. He says the county rightly permitted the construction project because it falls in the city of McKinney’s ETJ - or extra territorial jurisdiction. That’s a land bubble around McKinney that the city could annex someday, but hasn’t yet, so it’s still in the county.
Judge Self says the law is clear on this. “Cities have no authorities under state law to regulate buildings in the ETJ, " Self said.
While McKinney officials wouldn’t talk to WFAA about this on camera, they did tell WFAA that the city has a right to regulate planned subdivisions in its ETJ.
Judge Self points out this is not a big developer building a big subdivision. “This case is the most egregious case I have seen. Because there is no subdivision of the land. This is a single couple trying to build a house, " Self said.
The City did offer a way to settle the impasse, but the deal they proposed was galling to the county and the Stauffer’s. Harlan Stauffer says the city asked him to set aside about three acres of his land for their future plans including new infrastructure and roads, just in case McKinney annexes the property at a later date.
The Stauffer’s builder, Alan Hoffmann, was stunned that the couple was asked to give the city those three acres for free. “And the current market value of that exceeds $200, 000, " Hoffman said.
The Stauffer’s rejected the deal, as they should have, says the county judge. “This is simple extortion because there is no reason for them to give that land, ” Self said.
As this battle raged, another ETJ court ruling went against McKinney. After that, the city admitted it is “studying alternatives” for how to deal with people like the Stauffer’s who just want to build a single house in that bubble just outside the city limits.
The larger question about who has authority in these buffer zones is still a hot legal dispute. Judge Self is ready for a long fight. “We are going to protect private property rights, ” Self said.
Some believe this will go all the way to the state Supreme Court. But until it’s definitively settled, Harlan Stauffer worries about what he’s up against. “They can obviously out-wait us and outspend us, ” Stauffer said.
Out in the middle of nowhere, a retired couple is caught in the middle, between a city and a county, and between their dream home and their reality. Susan Stauffer laments. “Being in our 70’s we cannot wait 20 years to continue this project obviously. We may be long gone before somebody steps up to the plate on this, " Susan said.
McKinney recently offered the Stauffer’s a deal that would allow them to build their home as long as they agree to make concessions to the city if they ever decide to subdivide or construct more than just one home on their 48 acres. The couples’ builder says they had decided not to accept the proposal as of this writing.
The best hope for the Stauffer’s might be elections.
This has become an issue in a McKinney City Council runoff that’ll be decided in June.
Also, George Fuller, the newly elected mayor, now says he will try to find an “immediate resolution for this couple and other similar pending cases, ” when he’s sworn in in the first week of June. Mayor-elect Fuller says he will also work with city council and the city’s legal advisors to undertake a comprehensive review of the city’s stance regarding construction in its ETJ.