Will Durham at commissioners court

Walker County District Attorney Will Durham addresses the Walker County Commissioners Court during its meeting Monday morning. 

Rules for housing development on the fringes of Huntsville city limits could look drastically different in the coming months. 

Walker County leaders announced Monday morning that they will open negotiations for how development will be regulated in unincorporated areas, following the completion of one of the largest annexations in recent history in the city of Huntsville.

At issue is the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction — or the unincorporated areas beyond city limits where the city and county can exert land-use regulations.

House Bill 1445, passed by the Texas Legislature in 2001, required cities and counties to create written agreements on who regulates developers wanting to build within the extraterritorial jurisdiction. The law was passed at the urging of developers who felt overburdened by having to follow two sets of regulations. Either counties or cities should regulate the extraterritorial jurisdiction, the law says, or they could regulate jointly.

The current agreement requires developers to build under the city’s code, which is thought of to be more stringent than the county’s.

“The current agreement would have been OK prior to the annexation,” Commissioner Ronnie White (Pct. 2) said. “However, now we are at a point to where the city won’t be annexing much anymore. We need to know where we stand as to which regulations we will be using.”

Walker County is currently undergoing a “large-scale” update of is subdivision regulations. According to county planner Andy Isbell, the largest change in the proposed regulations is the distinction between rural and suburban subdivisions.

“The law calls for the city and the county to author a single document for development within the ETJ. However, at the end of the day that force developers to follow the county’s code, the city’s code or a new third document,” Isbell said. “Our standards are pretty close to the city, there’s just some division in the subdivision regulations and some issues that we vary on when it comes to street standards.”

The discussions are expected to continue at next week’s commissioners court meeting.

In other action, commissioners gave approval to Walker County District Attorney Will Durham to renew a victim assistance coordinator position — pending grant approval from Governor Greg Abbott’s office.

According to Durham, the misdemeanor victim assistance coordinator worked with 81 victims since the program started in November 2019. The coordinator sees victims of domestic abuse, elderly abuse and protective orders.

“The job was let go when I started, but it has proved to be a vital position,” Durham said.

Walker County will only be responsible for 20% of the grant or $12,465.40 with a one-year renewal.

The next scheduled meeting of the Walker County Commissioners Court is set for Feb. 3 at 1:30 p.m.