Let It Go, Let It Go: Releasing Extraterritorial Jurisdiction

by | Aug 18, 2022 | Regulatory Risk Analysis and Compliance

All Texas cities automatically have an extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), which is the unincorporated area that is contiguous to the city’s corporate boundaries. The expansion and reduction of a city’s ETJ is governed by the state’s Municipal Annexation Act. With respect to the reduction of ETJ, a city’s ETJ can only be reduced if the city “gives its written consent by ordinance or resolution.” There are three limited exceptions to that general rule, of which the most common is an interlocal agreement between cities to allocate ETJ.

All Texas cities, by statute, have an extraterritorial jurisdiction (“ETJ”). ETJ is “the unincorporated area that is contiguous to the corporate boundaries of the municipality” and is located within a specified distance of those boundaries depending upon the municipality’s population.[1]

The size of a city’s ETJ depends on the city’s population:

  • Less than 5,000 inhabitants – ETJ extends .5 miles past city limits
  • 5,000-24,999 inhabitants – ETJ extends 1 mile past city limits
  • 25,000-49,999 inhabitants – ETJ extends 2 miles past city limits
  • 50,000-99,999 inhabitants – ETJ extends 3.5 miles past city limits
  • 100,000 or more inhabitants – ETJ extends 5 miles past city limits

Cities have certain regulatory authority in their ETJ, including authority to regulate things like subdivision platting, utility systems, outdoor signs, and water conservation.

The concept of ETJ did not exist in Texas until 1963, when the Texas Legislature enacted the Municipal Annexation Act. The Municipal Annexation Act governs the expansion and reduction of ETJ.

With respect to the reduction of ETJ, a city’s ETJ may not be reduced unless the governing body of the city “gives its written consent by ordinance or resolution.”[2]

There are three limited exceptions to this rule:

  • Overlapping ETJ as of August 23, 1963. No written consent is needed in cases of judicial apportionment of ETJs that overlapped as of August 23, 1963, the year that the state’s Municipal Annexation Act took effect.[3] Given that the designation of ETJ was new, the 1963 law set forth the procedure for resolving the matter of ETJs that originally overlapped. If the cities involved could not agree on how to apportion the overlapping ETJ, they could request apportionment by an action in district court. The court would apportion the area among the affected municipalities, considering population densities, patterns of growth, transportation, topography, land use in the municipalities and the overlapping area, and existing property lines.
  • Interlocal agreement to allocate ETJ. Section 42.022 of the Municipal Annexation Act provides that: “The extraterritorial jurisdiction of a municipality may be expanded through annexation to include area that on the date of annexation is located in the extraterritorial jurisdiction of another municipality if a written agreement between the municipalities in effect on the date of annexation allocates the area to the extraterritorial jurisdiction of the annexing municipality.”[4] In other words, cities can agree to transfer one city’s ETJ to another city or cities.
  • Special law affecting the ETJ of certain large border cities. Section 42.0235 was added to the Municipal Annexation Act in 2015 to address a dispute in Cameron County related to the ETJ of the cities of Brownsville and Laguna Vista. The provision limits the ETJ of cities “with a population of more than 175,000 located in a county that contains an international border and borders the Gulf of Mexico.” Specifically, Section 42.0235(a) states that the ETJ of such cities terminates two miles from the jurisdiction of a neighboring city if extension of the ETJ beyond that limit would: (1) completely surround the corporate boundaries or ETJ of the neighboring municipality; and (2) limit the growth of the neighboring municipality by precluding the expansion of the neighboring municipality’s ETJ. Such cities are required to release ETJ “as necessary to comply with” Section 42.0235(a).[5]

The release of a city’s ETJ does not authorize a neighboring city to automatically “receive” the released area.[6] However, as discussed above, a neighboring city can annex the released area by an agreement with the releasing city under Section 42.022 of the Municipal Annexation Act.[7] Otherwise, a city may only expand its ETJ in three ways: population growth, voluntary petition of a contiguous landowner, or extension of the municipal boundaries through annexation.

[1] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.021.

[2] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.023.

[3] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.901.

[4] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.022(d).

[5] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.0235.

[6] City of Alton v. City of Mission, 164 S.W.3d 861, 865-66 (Tex. App.—Corpus Christi 2005) (citing City of Austin v. City of Cedar Park, 953 S.W.2d 424, 430 (Tex. App.—Austin 1997, no writ)).

[7] Tex. Loc. Gov’t Code § 42.022(d).

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