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Victoria plans to grow, annex to north

Sept. 2, 2011 at 4:02 a.m.

Velocity Powersports offers sales, parts and service along U.S. Highway 77 near the intersection of U.S. Highway 77 and Northside Road. The second phase of the Annexation Project is along U.S Highway 77 North consists of constructing a sanitary sewer lift station near the intersection of Northside Road and U.S. Highway 77 and extending sewer lines along the highway about one mile north of Northside Road.

Joey Ornelas and his father built their restaurant three years ago on U.S. Highway 77 North, just outside Victoria's city limits, because they foresaw a solid economic future there.

That future now appears even brighter.

The City of Victoria next year plans to begin upgrading and annexing more than 170 acres just north of its current limits, including the land where the Ornelases operate Lu Raq's Restaurant & Beer Garden. This annexation is just one of several such expansion-oriented municipal projects discussed for the next decade.

The U.S. Highway 77 North annexation plan, which will extend north to about halfway between Northside and Tate roads, highlights the city's view that growth here could be substantial. Extended utilities north of Walmart likely would drive more development to that area - and traffic to businesses such as Lu Raq's.

"We looked at property all over the county," said Joey Ornelas, 31. "We settled on U.S. Highway 77 North because we figured everything would move that way eventually. The annexation could mean more housing, more businesses and more customers."

City planners predict such a scenario. Investors show strong interest in developing north of the city's retail center, which buzzes already with impressive traffic counts.

"It's all about demand," John Kaminski, the city's director of development services, said. "People are going to go where they think development will be most successful. That area is just where everybody is."

Cities often annex land to stay ahead of growth, increase the tax base and to ensure new development meets building, fire code and parking standards. To do this, planners and council members must predict where, when and by how much growth will occur, a tricky and expensive balancing act at best.

That's because municipalities are required by law to serve annexed areas with water and sewer lines within two and a half years of annexation.

The U.S. Highway 77 North annexation would cost an estimated $3.9 million considering utility extensions and installation of a sanitary sewer lift station. Work is expected to begin next year and to continue until 2013.

Victoria City Council members vote on such projects as part of an ever-evolving capital improvements program. City Councilman Tom Halepaska said the skill required to determine the best times in which to annex mimic those of a meteorologist, who becomes more and more accurate as a hurricane nears.

"Now, there are so many indicators that suggest long-term growth," Halepaska said. "Even if it's slow growth, it'll probably head to the north. That's the way everyone reads it."

While this north side annexation remains in the city's short-term strategy, other projects could loom on the horizon, albeit outside the five-year plan. They include:

Extension of Ball Airport Road, which would, in part, connect U.S. Highway 87 North to U.S. Highway 77 North. The road would resemble a loop, help to relieve traffic north of town and likely spur more development. Estimated cost: $13.2 million.

Annexation of U.S. Highway 87 North just north of Victoria West High School. This project was in the city's plans a few years ago, but was dropped. The city thus lacks updated cost estimates.

Extension of John Stockbauer Drive north past Loop 463. Owners of Victoria Mall have for years pushed for the extension. And while the project was part of a previous city thoroughfare plan, the extension was dropped because planners deemed service to the area is adequate. Private developers, however, are free to undertake the work.

"We're looking at the long-term health of the community," Kaminski, the city planner, said. "We don't want to find ourselves being ringed by development outside of our city - getting blocked off where we can't expand. That could create problems and affect the future viability of the community."



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