Annexation Case Heard
Pinewild annexation opponents have had their day in court again. Having lost at the local level, they took their case to the N.C. Court of Appeals, which heard an hour of arguments Wednesday.
Whatever the decision, the losing side is certain to appeal to the Supreme Court of North Carolina. Pinehurst cannot legally annex Pinewild until 30 days after a final decision. A ruling by the appeals court is expected in early summer, with a 30-day window to appeal. After that, it could take three months for N.C. Supreme Court justices to make a final ruling.
That would make Christmas the most likely time for an end to the matter as far as the state is concerned. A different approach lies in the efforts by opponents of involuntary annexation (which they call "forced annexation") to get the General Assembly to change the law.
As a rule, three judges sitting as the Court of Appeals hear three cases in the morning and three more judges hear three cases in the afternoon. If one case or another is dropped or continued, the next case in line moves up. That is what happened Wednesday when this case, originally No. 3 for the morning session, was heard at 10:30 a.m. rather than an hour later.
Each side had 30 minutes, with the appellant (Pinewild) going first. Attorney Robert Hornik Jr., attorney for annexation opponents, made anti-annexation arguments, citing his contention that at the time North Carolina's involuntary annexation law was passed back in the 1950s, gated communities like Pinewild hardly existed. That law should not apply to them, opponents argue, as they are virtually independent municipalities in their own right.
Another argument is the contention that Pinehurst must show how the town could possibly offer garbage collection or police protection when all the streets are private. The hearing took place in the old Wachovia building in Raleigh, as the court's regular building is undergoing renovations. This temporary courtroom is small, accommodating only a couple of dozen spectators.
Bobby Sullivan gave the response of the municipality, the village of Pinehurst. He has always argued that there is no special exemption from being annexed for people just because they put up a fence and gate around their property or have banded together to provide town-like services.
Under the law, he says, the village does not actually have to provide any services. The town only has to offer them to Pinewild when it annexes the area.
Now the three judges will consider, take a vote, and assign one of the three to write an opinion. If it splits 2 to 1, the losing side has an automatic right of appeal to the state supreme court. If the decision is unanimous, losers may still petition "discretionary review," but those are rarely granted.
A decision is expected by early July.
"Annexation could take place late this year, early next year once Pinehurst prevails," Sullivan said.
"We are confident, now that the unique issues of our case are being heard," Sullivan said Friday. "You never know what a court is going to do, but we feel confident enough in our case that if we have to go to the Supreme Court of North Carolina or the Supreme Court of the United States, we will."?
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