Wednesday, March 08, 2006

Annexation on the Fast Track

By Tim Peck
Mountain Guardian
March 8, 2006

Adding to concerns about zoning, revaluation, development and district elections, Buncombe County must confront another controversy on the horizon: Many unsuspecting Buncombe County residents could very well have a new mailing address in the not too distant future: Asheville, NC.

At 8:00 AM on Tuesday, March 6th, the Asheville City Council met at the downtown municipal building to discuss the future enlargement of the city by way of annexation.  The meeting was attended by a majority of council members (absent Newman and Jones), a team of staff, a fair number of reporters, and a dismal few citizens.  Public officials and media outnumbered citizens 6 to 1.  Perhaps it was the unusual and smallish meeting place or the time of day that discouraged participation; or perhaps the absence of TV coverage.  Normally, council will meet in ample chambers at city hall with video cameras documenting the proceedings.

Members of city staff presented a large, color-coded map representing those areas under consideration to be engulfed by the boundaries of Asheville’s expanding city limits. The Resolution of Consideration for Annexation is required by statute on a periodic basis to formalize the process and announce to county dwellers that certain lands may be subject to annexation “within the reasonably near future.”  This “near future” used to be no less than one year after the announcement.

The resolution before council now reflects changes that will allow annexation to proceed much faster.  Changes in the law now make it possible for qualified areas to be officially annexed 70 days after passage of the resolution instead of one year as the law previously required.

Prior to the meeting, MG had spoken with Scott Shuford, the department head of the city’s planning department, on how many people could potentially be affected by this plan. Shuford said that, between the areas to be annexed and the consequent extension of the Extra-Territorial Jurisdiction (ETJ) out an additional 3 miles, he would estimate approximately 30,000 could have a new address in a fortnight.  They would also be able to participate in the double-taxation that current city residents are subjected to.  Beyond the five-figure numbers added to the city’s tax rolls, should all the areas under consideration be annexed, the city would double its physical size.

After the staff presentation explaining the map and its meaning, council member Robin Cape took the floor and asked staff about the “large white area in the middle of the map.”  She and staff concurred that this was the Biltmore Estate and Cape asked why this area of town was exempt from the annexation plans.  Scott Shuford was not in attendance and Julia Cogburn attempted an explanation.   Cape politely asked that staff look into it and help her understand this glaring peculiarity.

The explanation given by staff was a bit ambiguous, especially as applied to the Biltmore Inn. In this case, the estate is not under consideration because potential future annexation areas must meet specific density and development criteria as a condition of consideration.  Biltmore Estate has so few residences across its vast acreage and does not qualify for annexation under state law for this reason (see G.S. § 160A‑48).

Mayor Terry Bellamy asked the small audience if they had questions or comments. This MG reporter asked the only question: “Do you favor the incorporation of Leicester?” After an awkward and breathless silence, Bellamy asked, “Are there any other comments?”  Apparently, and perhaps for political reasons, questions seemed to have been magically transformed into comments—to the decided bemusement of the questioner. But before moving on, council member Jan Davis interrupted saying that the question deserved an answer.  Davis commented in general terms that there can be conflicting interests involved and the city wants to meet and work together with communities to determine the best solution for providing services going forward.  City Attorney Bob Oats supplemented this saying that as the incorporation process moves forward council will have a chance later to take a position on this matter.

With no more comments or questions apparent, a motion was made and a vote taken to adopt the resolution.  Council approved the resolution 5-1, Dr. Carl Mumpower dissenting.  The 12-minute meeting adjourned in time for breakfast.


It seems to this reporter that between the logistical shell-game, the paltry communications, and the hurried legislative process, this whole perfunctory affair was conducted in a way that was designed to exclude the public.  The only avenue open to redress grievance in this matter is through the courts after the fact.  North Carolina law distinguishes itself with respect to forced annexation in that those about to be subsumed by a city have no say in the matter. Cities in this state are under no obligation to engage people from those areas under consideration in any dialogue concerning their future and a city’s plans for it. As constituted, North Carolina’s involuntary annexation laws are a particularly oily form of eminent domain.
At any regular or special meeting held no sooner than the tenth day following the public hearing and not later than 90 days following such public hearing, the governing board shall have authority to adopt an ordinance extending the corporate limits of the municipality to include all, or such part, of the area described in the notice of public hearing which meets the requirements of G.S. 160A-48 and which the governing board has concluded should be annexed. -G.S. 160A-49 (e), Procedure for annexation.

MP3 audio from the meeting