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Arbitrator to decide on Midlothian annexation

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STAFF REPORT
MIDLOTHIAN - A rural Ellis County beekeeper fears city regulations will sting his livelihood if Midlothian annexes his land.

'Bees and the city don't really get along too well,' said David Lister, who has 23 years of beekeeping experience.

Lister's property is on one of two tracts of land the city is looking to annex.

The tracts together add about 1,200 acres, 525 homes and an estimated $380,000 in tax revenue to the city.

Ranchettes on spacious lots dot most of one tract, while mobile homes sit on the other. Both tracts lie within four miles of the city's center.

But many property owners are fighting the proposal through a group they formed called Rural Citizens Against Annexation.

Without an agreement after two years, an arbitrator heard from attorneys on both sides.

Midlothian city leaders said their's could be the first annexation case in Texas to reach this stage of arbitration since state lawmakers passed a 1999 annexation law. Under that law, cities have two and a half years, instead of four and a half years, to provide annexed areas with fire, police, sewer and water services.

The law also stipulates cities notify property owners of any planned annexation three years in advance.

Lister's attitude toward the city is one of mistrust. He said his property could be annexed and zoned to allow for his beekeeping business, but years from now, different elected leaders could change the zoning.

Lister said an arbitrator could keep the city from 'weaseling out on promises.'

City Manager Don Hastings said officials tried to negotiate what they believed was a reasonable agreement, including waiving city fees for five years, allowing livestock to be grandfathered in and having homeowners create zoning boards to safeguard their rural living. The homeowners resisted.

Because the city and residents have been unable to reach an agreement, a single arbitrator will now decide what city services Midlothian will offer. Arbitrator Laird Elizabeth Lawrence has until Nov. 19 to release her findings.

If she approves the annexation and proposes a service plan, the city council will vote in December 2008 on whether to incorporate the two parcels, which are surrounded by Midlothian's city limits.

Lister said residents enjoy the relative freedom of living in the county and he doesn't want to see that vanish.

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