Annexation Battle Lines Drawn
In January 1987, then-Pinehurst Village Manager George Wood sent a letter notifying developers of the proposed Pinewild subdivision that the Village Council would adopt a resolution of intent to consider annexing it.
In January 2007 -- 20 years later -- the Village Council is planning to carry out its promise. It plans to adopt a resolution of intent to annex Pinewild, effective June 30, 2008.
Some Pinewild property owners don't like the idea at all. They don't mind being near Pinehurst, but they don't want to be part of it and pay taxes accordingly. Pinewild lies on the border of Pinehurst along Linden Road and N.C. 211.
Under certain circumstances, North Carolina law -- whose drafters described it as an effort to provide for the orderly growth of towns into metropolitan cities and prevent their being hedged about by walls of smaller communities -- lets towns extend city limits to absorb adjacent areas, even when they don't want to come in.
Opponents call it "forced" annexation. They call it a lot of other names, too -- some of them not very nice. Advocates have a nicer name for it: "city-initiated" annexation.
The village of Pinehurst's attempts to annex Pinewild against the will of a majority of the property owners have now thrust Moore County into a wider legal, and possibly political, battle that has been brewing across the state and country over involuntary annexation.
Locally, some opponents would like the state to make involuntary annexations unlawful.
North Carolina is one of only seven states allowing involuntary annexation of properties by municipalities. Louisiana, Illinois and Oregon allow it only in limited cases -- but in Tennessee, Idaho and Kansas, like North Carolina, towns can annex property without consent of its owner.
A 1959 change in state law meant approval by the General Assembly would no longer be required for all annexations. No longer could affected residents compel a referendum, as they could before. Property owners could be forced into nearby town limits without having any voice in the matter.
Development density and urbanization in service needs and proximity to "urban" or municipal territory are among certain requirements spelled out before a town or city in North Carolina can legally annex land and residents without their approval.
Often, the matter ends up in front of a judge.
'No Services, No Annexation'
The city of Fayetteville recently carried out such an annexation, was sued, and won its case in court. The N.C. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of the present involuntary annexation law -- which has been on the books of North Carolina for more than a half century.
But a recent court case overturned an annexation when it was shown that the only city service extended by the town of Marvin would be town administration of the new area -- the results of the annexation itself.
"The village of Marvin did not substantially comply with statutory procedures for an involuntary annexation because the services provided simply filled needs created by the annexation itself, without conferring significant benefits on the annexed property owners and residents," read the state Supreme Court ruling.
It added: "Although the administrative services which the village proposed to extend were the only services provided to existing residents, (state law) is grounded in a legislative expectation that the annexing municipality possesses meaningful services to extend to the annexed property."
People living on the 320 lots that Marvin sought to annex wouldn't get anything at all except higher taxes. Law requires meaningful service improvement, the court said -- and explained the reasoning behind annexation law in North Carolina.
"The primary purpose of involuntary annexation, as regulated by these statutes, is to promote 'sound urban development' through the organized extension of municipal services to fringe geographical areas," the court said. "These services must provide a meaningful benefit to newly annexed property owners and residents, who are now municipal taxpayers, and must also be extended in a nondiscriminatory fashion."
The court did not require an annexing municipality to provide all categories of public services. It concluded only that the level of services proposed by the village of Marvin was insufficient.
"Those part-time administrative services, such as zoning and tax collection, simply fill needs created by the annexation itself, without conferring significant benefits on the annexed property owners and residents," the court said. "Accordingly, we reverse the opinion of the Court of Appeals."
Two justices dissented, saying that the only remedy for those frustrated at being annexed is a change in law by the General Assembly. The meaning of the involuntary annexation statute was clear and unambiguous, they held.
The final rule, however, is "no services, no annexation."
It is a need for such services that propels most voluntary annexations, such as one granted by Carthage recently, for property owners who wanted city water and sewer.
State law requires 100 percent approval by all affected property owners for voluntary annexation into a city or town. Most want utility services, trash collection, fire and police protection and paved streets maintained by someone other than themselves.
Some Moore County towns have areas next to, or (in some cases) surrounded by the towns, but not part of them.
The Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is helping residents of five predominantly black Moore County neighborhoods organize to pressure county or town governments to provide basic services they lack -- such as water and sewer.
One, Jackson Hamlet -- on the outskirts of Pinehurst, on N.C. 5 -- is a century old. Failing septic systems could affect public health, residents say. A part of Southern Pines known as "Lost City" is like a doughnuthole in the town, but most of its property owners live out of state and are unlikely to petition for voluntary annexation.
While the Center for Civil Rights hopes the municipalities will eventually annex these areas, nobody can say for certain whether that would be in their best interest or even if it is what these residents want.
In cases of multiple property owners, voluntary annexations are "rare," Village Manager Andy Wilkison said at a recent public forum sponsored by the Pinehurst Civic Group.
Developments such as Pinewild -- with multiple owners of its 1,200 home sites, the majority of them built upon and occupied -- will probably never have unanimous approval of either action.
Protecting Its Doorstep
Pinewild is so close to Pinehurst that it is in the village's extraterritorial zoning and planning jurisdiction (ETJ).
Signs at its driveway entrances call it "Pinewild Country Club of Pinehurst." Personalized license plates displayed on the front bumpers of vehicles owned by Pinewild residents and employees proclaim "Pinewild at Pinehurst."
"Pinewild is already a part of Pinehurst," Wilkison said. "I look forward to the day they officially move in with us. Pinehurst and Pinewild got to where they are today together, not separately, and in January of next year the Village Council will act on the resolution."
Wilkison listed two reasons for annexing Pinewild.
The first was land-use management. Pinewild began in 1986 as a planned subdivision with three times the number of residential properties, one-third to be attached, multifamily dwelling units.
The developer didn't propose any public sewer service. The original proposal of "thousands of septic tanks crammed into this area" wasn't acceptable to Pinehurst standards, he said.
Pinehurst government officials made the developer change his plan for Pinewild. Pinewild developed with drastically reduced density and county sewer and water service, resulting in the prosperous, upscale gated community.
Wilkison said if Pinewild had not been subject to the village's development standards, it probably would have developed in the early model -- not into the upscale place it is today.
The area just west of Pinewild is also developing, he said. Pinehurst wants to protect the quality of development standards on Pinewild's doorstep by extending the village ETJ beyond Pinewild along N.C. 211, he said.
Annexing Pinewild is the way to do that, he said.
The second reason listed for annexing Pinewild was to keep the village tax base and financial resources healthy to continue providing expanded services and amenities that Pinehurst residents and others, including some outside the city limits, have grown to expect.
The town can do this only by expanding the tax base by adding population, either by new home construction or by annexation or both.
Other areas, he said, were once in Pinehurst ETJ, just like Pinewild, but other nearby towns annexed them. The standards of development in some of these other municipalities that have annexed territory close to Pinehurst are lower than the village's, he said.
Annexations of areas in Pinehurst ETJ by other towns are still possible, he said.
"Many of us today live in areas that weren't always part of Pinehurst but have been annexed into Pinehurst over the years," Wilkison said.
n 1980-86, Lake Pinehurst, Village Acres, and the southerly portion of N.C. 5.
n 1985-1990, Country Club of North Carolina, Golf Course No. 7, the Lawn and Tennis Club area, and areas lying to the south of Midland Road and east of the Pinehurst Traffic Circle.
n 1990-95, Golf Course No. 6, Golf Course No. 8, and Clarendon Gardens.
n 1995-2000, areas east of and including the Traffic Circle to the north of Midland Road, areas along Linden Road in the vicinity of Chicken Plant Road, and more areas on N.C. 5 south.
The Bottom Line
Pinehurst Mayor Steve Smith, Wilkison and other officials, including the Pinewild Property Owners Association president (PPOA) and the Village Council, agreed last year to delay annexing Pinewild until June 30, 2008.
The majority of Pinewild property owners voted to accept this proposal, which was required by the council in order to delay annexation. Current PPOA President John Cashion said his board supports the annexation delay until 2008.
The proposal from the village included allowing the private gates to remain, allowing Pinewild to maintain its own roads at its own standards without interference, public access or tax funding.
Pinewild's property tax burden to the village would be at the current rate of 31 cents per $100 of assessed value. That's the lowest rate in the county, and it would eliminate the present 11-cent fire district tax Pinewildians pay for Pinehurst Fire Department protection. At a net increase in property tax totaling 20 cents, a Pinewild house valued at $400,000 would cost its owner about $800 in village property tax.
Pinewild annexation opponents say they already have security police, privately contracted trash collection, county water and sewer, and their own recreational amenities behind their gates that they pay for.
The fire protection at an 11-cent tax rate is better than a 20-cent increase with services they don't want or need for their taxes, the opponents say.
But the village is ready and willing to provide all the services it provides to residents, should Pinewild decide it wants them, Wilkison has emphasized.
Opponents of annexation in Pinewild continue to restate opposition to be annexed without their permission. The argument always comes back to the bottom line. They don't want to pay village property taxes in addition to county property taxes.
Some use "constitutional" arguments, calling it "taxation without representation" or a violation of "one man, one vote" principle.
The N.C. Supreme Court has ruled the state law constitutional, said Wilkison.
Pinehurst, unlike Marvin, has many amenities to provide newly annexed residents, including the large 11-year-old Village Hall, new police station, new Fire Department, continuing to operate two fire stations at public insistence, and expansion of the parks and recreation department options to residents of all ages, including a new greenway trail system.
"If Pinehurst and other municipalities are not allowed to add to their revenue so they can continue to improve their quality of life, we can be assured that our ability to provide the quality of life we enjoy will be diminished, and to continue to provide the quality of life being enjoyed will cost all of us more," Wilkison said.
Changing the Law
A group calling itself Stop the Taking Of Pinewild is hooked up with a statewide group of similar name that has tried to get the state law allowing involuntary annexations abolished through political action. That hasn't succeeded, so legal action is being discussed.
About 80 percent of Pinewild residents signed a petition presented to the council in 2005 asking it to stop its annexation plans.
Pinewild resident John Rowerdink, speaking from the audience during a recent forum by the Pinehurst Civic Group, said it is "incorrect" to conclude that "almost everybody in Pinewild" is against annexation.
"A sizable portion of Pinewild believes the right course of action is to agree with annexation a slight majority," he said. "Pinewild people come from every state in the union. If Pinehurst Resort didn't exist, would we have moved here? I would not have moved here.
"The amenities, the air service, medical care, the presence of Pinehurst Resort is what drew Pinewild residents to move here. Do we want something for nothing, or should we pay for what we bargained for?"
In a recent telephone interview, Pinehurst Councilman Doug Lapins said the village had good reasons for delaying the annexation two years past 2006 when it could have annexed Pinewild, legally.
"My interpretation of the reason for delaying is to try and reach a reasonable accommodation with the people of Pinewild," Lapins said. "If we'd plowed in and done it when we legally could have a lawsuit was likely. Why should we both spend money on lawyers? We'd let Pinewild defer their annexation and pay village taxes later rather than forcing it to avoid the appearance of heavy-handed annexation, and also not to get into a legal war."
Pinewild resident Jim Norris said his taxes will increase $1,000 a year if he becomes a Pinehurst resident and has to pay village taxes.
"Why don't you raise taxes for Pinehurst residents?" he asked. "I didn't move here because it was near Pinehurst, but because it was a large area that meets my needs."
Norris shops outside Pinehurst because of a lack in the core village, he said.
The Pinehurst Village Council had raised the tax rate several times, and it hahas gone down several times, Wilkison said.
"Today, it's a nickel more than it was in 1980 (when it was incorporated)," Wilkison said -- adding that the village is planning to "have more retail and commercial development. A considerable amount of public funds will be spent on this. I hope you will see fit to shop in the village."
Others were happy at being part of Pinehurst.
"We're happy to have been annexed," said Dick Kiehl of No. 6. "It's a state law, not a local law that governs it."
All 100 North Carolina counties have the say-so over changing or abolishing state law, he said -- not just one county or town.
Pinewild resident Bob Norman objected.
"State law doesn't say you have to annex anybody," he said. "Why not do as in most of the United States -- have one man, one vote? It only takes 51 percent to decide."
John Chappell can be reached at 783-5841 or by e-mail at email@example.com. Sara Lindau can be reached at 693-2473 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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