Could Houston lose our spot as 4th largest city?

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HOUSTON, TX -- Last year, San Antonio took the first steps toward annexing more than 200,000 additional residents. If they accomplish that, it could mean they move up from the seventh largest city in the U.S. to fifth, right behind Houston.

Are they coming for us next? Don't laugh. They've already passed Dallas and Austin!

Though Houston has grown 667 square miles in the last 175 years, we've grown very little, geographically, in the last 15 years. This, despite gaining nearly 280,000 new residents in that time.

So why have we stopped ropin' in more land? Patrick Walsh, Houston's city planning & development director, says it all goes back to Kingwood in 1996. "That was a contentious annexation, and in fact, we still hear from some of those Kingwood residents about it," says Walsh with a slight laugh, "and it did result in a number of changes in the state legislature that did create some limits on the city's abilities to do annexations." For example, now it's harder to take over an area where the folks living there don't want to be annexed. Thanks a lot, Kingwood!

Don't bother looking to wealthy areas like Bellaire, West University or Piney Point for possible takeovers. "If you're an incorporated municipality like the city of Bellaire or Jersey Village or Piney Point," Walsh explains, "the city of Houston just simply doesn't have the authority to annex them. They're established cities, just like Houston is an established city... so we really don't have the authority to push them around."

The same goes for Sugar Land and Katy, but what about the Woodlands? "At one point, the city did have the opportunity to annex the Woodlands. However, we've agreed not to." He adds, "In return for that, the Woodlands does pay a portion of their sales tax to the city. We use that for transportation purposes."

Good thing, considering so many Woodlands folk use Houston roads to come to work in our city!

So who can we annex to keep our Alamo-defendin' neighbors to the west at bay? "Harris County, outside of our city limits, will at some point in the near future, have more people in it than within the city limits of Houston," Walsh says. "That's pretty extraordinary to have such a huge city, if you will, outside of the city limits."

Plus, change could be arriving soon in the form of "Plan Houston," which, Walsh explains, will look at all the policies that the city has for managing growth and make sure that they are as effective as possible.

Let's hope it reignites our fire for annexation! We need that, with 3 million more people coming here by 2025, according to the Houston-Galveston Area Council. If not, expect to see a lot more highrises than homes in your future!

For another take on the annexation problem, check out this month's Houstonia.