TEASER Taylortown

Pinehurst filed a lawsuit Thursday asking a Superior Court judge to nullify what it contends is an “illegal” annexation by Taylortown last month.

The suit cites several violations of state law by Taylortown in annexing the 12-acre tract of land on N.C. 211 on May 13. Council members unanimously approved the annexation without comment despite warnings from village officials and a group of residents of neighboring Pinewild Country Club that it violated state law.

“Taylortown’s illegal annexation is nothing more than a municipal game of hide and seek,” Village Attorney Mike Newman said in a brief statement to The Pilot after the suit was filed. “That game ends today.”

The suit also names Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina, which owns the property, and the Plumbing Knight Inc., which has an option to purchase the land. The complaint states that they are “necessary parties to this action only because each has or may have property interests” in the tract and that “it is only the defendant Taylortown which engaged in the unlawful actions.”

“We want to make it abundantly clear that we are not alleging that they did anything wrong,” Newman told The Pilot. “Taylortown never informed them that the annexation of this parcel would be illegal.”

The property at issue is the same site Rodney Swarms, who owns the Plumbing Knight, asked the county to rezone for a commercial development last year. The rezoning drew strong opposition from Pinewild residents. A public hearing on the rezoning was delayed twice and never rescheduled.

Swarms, who attended the May 13 Taylortown council meeting but did not speak during the public hearing, said the following day he has “absolutely nothing to do with” the annexation petition.

Representatives of Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina in Thomasville have not commented publicly on the matter. It submitted a petition for annexation to the town March 5.

Newman says in the lawsuit that non-contiguous annexations, which are also commonly known as “satellite” annexations, are “narrowly constrained” by state law and are “strictly governed” by the requirements in the statutes.

“Compliance with these statutory requirements — and each of them — is mandatory under state law for the attempted satellite annexation,” the complaint says. “Failure to comply with the mandatory requirements … renders the annexation void.”

Newman wrote that the village has “standing” to file a legal challenge of an annexation by a neighboring municipality because it has an interest to “protect its primary and adjoining municipal limits from unlawful encroachment and interference by neighboring municipalities, especially those municipalities which openly flout and disregard governing law.”

The suit claims that Taylortown began private discussions with the Plumbing Knight about annexing the property sometime after the county delayed the second public hearing.

Then-Board Chairman Catherine Graham said when the hearing was delayed for the first time last spring, they had received a lot of opposition from Pinewild residents. The property is on the north side of the highway near an apartment complex across from Pinewild’s gate at Abington Drive.

The village says in its complaint that Taylortown never informed the applicant that the annexation was illegal, and that it has “actual and/or constructive knowledge” of that fact. It says the “black-letter law of North Carolina for decades” has been that the amount of land taken in through satellite annexations cannot exceed 10 percent of its total land area.

The suit also says the town’s primary corporate limits consist of 757 acres. Two previous satellite annexations — the largest being the 81-acre Pinesage subdivision — total slightly more than 89 acres. This tract would add another 12 acres, exceeding the 10 percent threshold.

The village contends that state law also prohibits one municipality from annexing land that is closer to another one when there is no annexation agreement in place between the two. No such agreement exists between the two.

“Taylortown either knew, or through the exercise of reasonable diligence should have known, that the 12.07-acre parcel was far closer to the (village of Pinehurst’s) primary corporate limits” than its own and that Taylortown knowingly accepted a “defective petition” for the annexation, the suit says.

The suit also challenged the adequacy of the legal notice that ran in The Pilot on May 1 advertising the May 13 public hearing on the annexation request.

Newman also included in the complaint a copy of a May 7 letter from Village Manager Jeff Sanborn to Mayor Ulysses Barrett prior to its public hearing that it was their “legal opinion” the annexation violates state law. It cited that same provisions included in the lawsuit. The complaint said Taylortown “ignored” the letter and made no response.

The Pilot has made repeated attempts to contact Barrett for comment. He has not returned messages left at his home, including one Thursday afternoon.

Contact David Sinclair at (910) 693-2462 or dsinclair@thepilot.com.

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