House OK's Freeze on Annexations
Opponents of involuntary annexation have scored a preliminary victory.
The N.C. House has overwhelmingly approved a nine-month moratorium on involuntary annexation of land by cities and towns between Aug. 31, 2008, and May 31, 2009. It will not affect voluntary annexations. The bill now goes to the Senate, where its chances of being considered appear dim.
If the legislation is enacted, it would delay the village of Pinehurst's planned annexation of Pinewild Country Club. Residents of the gated community are trying to prevent the annexation.
The 98-18 vote by the House Wednesday afternoon followed a 24-hour delay so more amendments could be considered by the bill's sponsors.
State Rep. Joe Boylan, a Pinehurst Republican and one of the bill's co-sponsors, was pleased with the approval, but cautioned that the battle is far from over.
"This was a major accomplishment," Boylan said Wednesday evening. "It's great to get this far, but now we've got to get it heard in the Senate."
Senate leaders have indicated that they will not consider the legislation, which would kill it.
Early on in the process, Boylan said, many annexation opponents believed the bill did not even have a fleeting chance in the House. He said that he and other House leaders worked to educate their fellow representatives on the merits of the moratorium. He added that he is confident the same strategy can work in the Senate.
"We have to demonstrate that this is a reasonable bill that gives us time to come up with workable solutions," Boylan said, stressing that it does not put a stop to annexation permanently.
Boylan said the bill is not only a win for Pinewild Country Club residents, but also for residents people who have been subjected to involuntary annexation across North Carolina.
Involuntary annexation opponents were pleased with the bill's passage.
Pinewild resident John Boesch was happy that the bill passed by such a wide margin. Boesch and his wife, Lydia, have been instrumental in the anti-annexation movement, founding Stop the Taking of Pinewild (StTOP) and being involved in the Fair Annexation Coal-ition (FAC).
"The House did what it should have done," Boesch said. "We still have a way to go, but the margin sends a very strong message to the Senate. We're very pleased by the decision."
Boesch noted that the bill generated spirited debate in the House, highlighted by a speech by Rep. Earl Jones, of Greensboro, on fairness and democracy. Boesch said the issues discussed seemed to resonate with a lot of people.
"The message we've been trying to get out for a long time is finally being heard in Raleigh," Boesch said.
Doug Aitken, a Pinewild resident and founder of the FAC, was ecstatic about the decision.
"I couldn't be happier with the House's actions," Aitken said. "I'm very pleased that we had a chance to be heard."
Aitken said the situation with Pinewild is a microcosm of the rest of the state. He believes the bill passed so easily because involuntary annexation has become such a hot-button issue and people are starting to pay attention.
Aitken served on a House Select Committee that recommended a one-year moratorium on involuntary annexation to give the state time to revise its laws.
The version of the bill passed was roughly the same as the original, according to Boylan. Originally intended to be a yearlong moratorium, it was shortened by another House committee to nine months.
Boesch said he approved of the length as long as the House felt the General Assembly had enough time to make thoughtful decisions on the annexation debate.
"The important part of the moratorium is giving the House and Senate an adequate amount of time to make reasonable decisions," Boesch said.
Boylan was unsure on the exact time frame for a Senate vote but said the bill could be submitted as early as Monday. If the Senate refuses to consider the bill as anticipated, a drawn-out political battle could ensue. Like Boesch, Boylan believes that the wide margin of victory for the bill in the House could force the Senate to act.
"Hopefully the overwhelming vote will generate a positive response [from the Senate]," Boylan said.
The Pinehurst Village Council had adopted a resolution to annex Pinewild on June 30. That was put on hold because of a pending federal lawsuit. A judge dismissed a lawsuit filed in state court.
Aitken said that even if the Senate rejects the moratorium, Pinewild activists will fight on.
"Oh, we aren't going away," Aitken said. "We're in it for the long haul."
"If the Senate doesn't approve this bill, then it dies. But what doesn't die is how far we have come [on this issue]."
Contact John Krahnert III at 693-2472 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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