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Land Battle Tests Usually Friendly Helotes-San Antonio Relationship

Flickr user LadyJaneGrey (Sarah Martin)

The 2013 land grab is underway between the cities of San Antonio and Helotes. Helotes city leaders are taking on San Antonio with legislation for a few square miles that San Antonio doesn’t want to let go of.

Helotes and residents of the San Antonio Ranch subdivision want the town to scoop up a swath of land that’s in San Antonio’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

The City of Helotes is asking for San Antonio to release a 6.7 square mile parcel of land that is outside of San Antonio’s city limits.

San Antonio responded with a counteroffer – a smaller chunk of land within a mile of the existing Helotes city limits.

"We said, 'Thank you very much but it’s going require more than that for us to do or accomplish what we’re trying to do; and that is decades into the future to have a place for us to grow and have economic development,'" said Helotes Mayor Tom Schoolcraft.

Schoolcraft said the residents of the San Antonio Ranch subdivision have been asking for years to be a part of Helotes instead of San Antonio.

Schoolcraft also said that it made sense to go after that larger 6.7 square mile area that would eventually help the land-locked Helotes double its size.

"If we’re going to go out and go through this for San Antonio Ranch, we might as well get a little bigger bang for our buck and most of the people out there, or they all have Helotes mailing addresses, they all relate to the City of Helotes, our police go out there to back up Bexar County Sheriff’s officers when they have police activity," said Schoolcraft.

The 6.7 square miles Helotes is requesting is about one percent of San Antonio’s total 625 square mile ETJ area.

Schoolcraft said big cities like San Antonio are smothering towns like Helotes that can provide better access to police, fire and hospitals for residents on the outskirts of the big city.

Since San Antonio offered up only a very small portion of what Helotes wants, the small city is taking their case all the way to Austin, with Rep. Lyle Larson filing a bill on their behalf.

"I’m not saying they’re bullies in everything, because they cooperate with us and we cooperate with them, but in this particular issue in my mind, they’re the bully on the block," Schoolcraft said of San Antonio.

At last week’s San Antonio City Council meeting, District 10 Councilman Carlton Soules asked the city’s Intergovernmental Relations Director, Jeff Coyle, about House Bill 397’s impact on the city’s ETJ.

Coyle told the council that the bill doesn’t specify that it applies only to Helotes, and could set a precedent for other small suburbs to think of making a land grab of their own.

"It doesn’t say Bexar County but it’s bracketed based on our population and it applies to cities less than 7,500 in population. So other cities within our ETJ, Fair Oaks Ranch, Bulverde, could also then take ETJ from San Antonio's ETJ without the city council consenting," explained Coyle.

Schoolcraft is now scheduled for a conference call with San Antonio city manager Sheryl Sculley and her staff to figure out if both cities can reach a compromise without sacrificing theirusually friedly neighborly bond.

If those talks aren’t productive, the Legislature could give Helotes the final say. A vote on the bill is scheduled for next week in the House.

Ryan Loyd was Texas Public Radio's city beat and political reporter. He left the organization in December, 2014.