Pinewild Annexation Fight Aired
Residents of Pinehurst and Pinewild thronged the Village Hall Wednesday for a preview of a likely courtroom battle over the council's plan to annex the gated community.
Pinehurst Civic Group President George Lane arranged a public forum on a number of issues, including involuntary annexations. About 250 people attended.
Other topics included planned new methods of trash collection, plans for a traffic roundabout and the council's new historic preservation district. Those preceded the annexation issue on the program agenda.
"We love you, but we don't love you enough to want to be part of your city," said Art Ashley, a Pinewild resident who opposes the village's planned annexation. He is a retiree who moved here 18 months ago.
Pinehurst Village Manager Andy Wilkison reviewed the past history of Pinehurst annexations, dating back to the 1980s, which were accomplished by both voluntary and involuntary methods.
Voluntary annexation can be accomplished only if 100 percent of the property owners agree, he told the audience. With "large tracts and multiple owners, a voluntary annexation is rare," he said.
A member of the audience asked Wilkison whether he had told someone -- as the rumor has gone around -- that the village's policy is to annex an area only if the parties favor it.
Wilkison read a 2001 letter he had written to another Pinewild resident to rebut that rumor. It stated that the village's record had not been to do any involuntary annexations in recent years but that it was not an official village policy.
Bob Norman, a retired U.S. Air Force general, at one pointed compared Pinewild's situation to Austria when it was forcibly annexed into Nazi Germany. Wilkison did not respond to such statements.
Norman also repeatedly asked that the village hold a referendum to allow Pinewild residents to vote on whether they wanted to be annexed. Wilkison reponded, "We follow what the law allows. The law does not require a referendum. We will not hold a referendum."
Norman said, "The old, archaic, 50-year-old laws allowing involuntary annexation in North Carolina are ... the result of (what) the League of Municipalities promulgated because of the sucking sounds of people moving out of the cities in North Carolina. That's the real reason."
Ashley said he felt it was wrong to annex people against their will, that it constitutes "legal robbery" and is "antiquated." He suggested that negotiated annexations are better.
Wilkison said he has had lengthy conversations with Pinewild residents and responded to detailed inquiries for years about the issue and that he regularly invited them to meet with him to discuss it.
Wilkison also said the involuntary annexation law has been upheld by the N.C. Supreme Court in both a recent case against the city of Fayetteville and a small town called Marvin.
Fayetteville won its case when a group of residents sued over the involuntary annexation of large areas. But Marvin was found not to have fulfilled the requirements of state annexation law. The law requires a municipality to provide services that residents otherwise would not have received. However, that court explicitly upheld the constitutionality of the law in general, Wilkison said.
"This is properly settled in the courts," Wilkison said. He added: "I do have a mandate to do what is good for Pinehurst. Many of you (in the audience) probably weren't aware that you live in an area that wasn't part of Pinehurst from the beginning."
He was referring to areas that have been annexed in the past 25 years.
The village has retained outside legal counsel in the Pinewild annexation matter. The attorney will review the village's legally required annexation report and services offered to newly annexed residents, to make sure it complies with the stringent law.
Pinewild residents who oppose annexation argue that they have all the services that the village could provide, which they already pay for themselves, and the only thing they'll get from the village is a tax bill.
Wilkison countered that Pinehurst has a number of amenities and services it can afford to offer its residents because it has been able to expand its tax base through normal growth and annexations.
The Pinehurst Village Council will adopt a resolution of intent to annex Pinewild in January 2007 and release a required services and annexation report. The annexation would become effective June 30, 2008, a timetable that a slim majority of Pinewild property owners accepted in a vote last year. The village offered to delay annexation for two years, until 2008, if property owners approved.
Opponents claim they voted in favor of the offer from the village to buy more time to prepare a possible legal challenge and, on the political front, to push the state General Assembly to eliminate involuntary annexation.
Some members of the audience laughed when Pinewild residents said they did not move to the gated country club community because of its proximity to Pinehurst.
Ashley said he wanted to move to a friendly area that is not too close to any city with 25,000 people or more. (Pinehurst is expected to reach the 20,000 population mark by 2020 or earlier.)
More than 800 Pinewild residents, reportedly 80 percent of the property owners, signed a petition asking the village to abandon its annexation plans. Opponents presented the petition to the Village Council in the fall of 2005.
Several speakers from both Pinewild and Pinehurst defended the council's plans.
One reason the council wants to annex Pinewild, Wilkison said, is to "manage the development of land use around the present jurisdiction of the village of Pinehurst, outside of the present corporate boundaries, called our extraterritorial jurisdiction. We need to control land use in the areas to the west of Pinewild that we all know are starting to develop and will only accelerate in the future."
Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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