Panel Urges Annexation Moratorium
Opponents of North Carolina's involuntary annexation laws won a significant battle last week, but they realize the fight is far from over.
A state House study committee voted 10-2 to recommend that North Carolina temporarily ban municipalities from involuntarily annexing areas so lawmakers can consider changes sought by some residents. The one-year moratorium would run through June 30, 2009.
The moratorium doesn't apply to voluntary annexations but does cover satellite annexations, or those taking in land that isn't contiguous to a city's current limits.
The General Assembly would have to enact legislation imposing a moratorium, and Gov. Mike Easley would have to sign it into law.
"The vote is a statement in agreement that the law in its current state and current evolution of North Carolina is not working the way, to the best of my knowledge, it was intended to work," said Pinewild resident John Boesch.
Boesch and his wife, Lydia, are two main opponents of the state's involuntary annexation law. They founded a group called Stop the Taking of Pinewild (StTOP) and are members of the Fair Annexation Coalition (FAC). Both groups oppose the village of Pinehurst's planned annexation of Pinewild Country Club in June.
Study committee member Doug Aitken, a Pinewild resident and founder of FAC, said the goals of the panel are twofold.
First, he said, is to have a moratorium approved so the committee, which exists until the end of the year, can continue to work on the details of annexation reform. The long-term goal is to get "specific legislation introduced and passed to change the law," he said.
House Speaker Joe Hackney, an Orange County Democrat whose district includes a small part of Moore County, appointed the panel in December. The committee would continue to study annexation laws and present detailed recommendations to next year's legislative session.
Involuntary annexation opponents say the state's laws are outdated and that oftentimes the desire to annex is purely monetary, and that residents in annexed areas pay higher taxes and receive little or no added benefits.
Proponents say the laws allow cities and towns to stay vibrant and allow for controlled, managed growth.
About 1,000 people attended hearings this year held by the House Select Committee on Municipal Annexation.
'Show a Different Side'
Both Aitken and Boesch believe the toughest opposition to reform will be the North Carolina League of Municipalities, a powerful lobbyist for cities and towns.
"For years and years, the only voice that has been heard is that of the League of Municipalities, and we are just trying to show a different side of the picture," Aitken said. "They are going to fight tooth and nail to keep what they have."
Representatives of the League have said delays could cost local governments that are near completion of annexations hundreds of thousands of dollars in planning costs.
Boesch said the key to winning the fight is to get information out. A task that is made more difficult, Aitken said, by the League of Municipalities.
"We have to really pile on now and let people in Raleigh know what we think," Boesch said. "We need to encourage the legislators to look at both sides. Don't just listen and respond in a Pavlovian manner to what the League says."
The moratorium recommendation will be presented to the General Assembly when it convenes in May. The full House and Senate would have to approve the bill before it goes to Easley for him to sign it into law.
'Common Sense Prevail'
Pinewild residents have filed two lawsuits opposing the annexation.
In January, Raleigh attorney Gene Boyce filled a federal lawsuit claiming that the involuntary annexation of Pinewild by the village of Pinehurst is "an illegal taking" prohibited by the U.S Constitution and will significantly diminish property values, and that the village is constitutionally obligated to compensate residents for that taking.
More than 700 residents have signed onto the federal lawsuit, Boesch said.
In February, Superior Court Judge Lindsay R. Davis Jr. dismissed a state lawsuit, stating that "no genuine issue of material fact exists."
Attorney Robert Hornik Jr., who represented Pinewild residents in the state suit, argued that the case was unique and that the courts had not previously ruled on matters such as this in which an entire gated community was being annexed without consent.
Village Attorney Mike Newman contended that residents who live in gated communities do not enjoy any more protection against involuntary annexation than anybody else in North Carolina. Private property is the same whether gated or not, he said.
Pinehurst has adopted a resolution to annex Pinewild effective June 30. The annexation cannot take place while legal action is pending.
Boesch said he thinks the moratorium vote by the state panel has been a boon to the morale of those across the state who are fighting against forced annexation.
"Bottom line, we are happy about where we are," he said. "We are going to continue to push and hope common sense will prevail in the legislature. There is still a lot of work to do."
Contact Tom Embrey at 693-2473 or by e-mail at tembrey@ thepilot.com.
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