05/16/05 — Annexation opponents will go back to court

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Annexation opponents will go back to court

By Barbara Arntsen
Published in News on May 16, 2005 1:45 PM

Wayne County annexation opponents are taking their fight to the North Carolina Court of Appeals.

Good Neighbors United, the group fighting Goldsboro's proposed annexation north of the city, filed an appeal Thursday regarding a decision made by Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow.

Crow ruled last October that the property owners couldn't get their annexation dismissed by attacking a previous annexation.

The judge said a 2002 voluntary annexation, which paved the way to annex the east and west sides of Salem Church Road and the north and south sides of Buck Swamp Road, could not be challenged by annexation opponents.

That annexation made the property north of the location contiguous to city limits, a criterion for involuntary annexation.

In its lawsuit against the city, the plaintiffs said the city didn't follow state laws for the 2002 annexation of the Lane-Howell property, which includes 360 acres on the east side of Salem Church Road between Stoney Hill Road and Fedelon Trail.

Under state law, an area proposed for forced annexation must coincide or touch upon city limits, and each owner must sign the petition before a municipality has the legal authority to annex the property.

Otherwise, the annexation is illegal and void.

Jim Eldridge, the lawyer for the plaintiffs, said City Council didn't have the required jurisdiction to annex the Lane Farms and Howell Properties in 2002 because all of the property owners didn't sign the annexation petition.

Former city attorney Harrell Everett said none of the parties in the current lawsuit owned property contained in the Lane-Howell annexation and therefore didn't have standing to protest it.

Citing case law, Everett said a group of people could not "collaboratively attack one annexation in another annexation." He also said case law states complainants had "to own property in the annexed area to contest" that annexation.

Crow agreed with Everett and dismissed that portion of the lawsuit. It is that decision the annexation opponents are appealing.

"We felt that we had to go forward and appeal that ruling," said Bill Burnette, one of the participants in the lawsuit. "The bottom line here is that the Lane Farm and Howell Properties' annexation was illegal and yet the city has to use that annexation to get to our area. If the appellate court agrees with our claim, then the current annexation is dead on arrival."

Burnette said it might be risky for the city to spend money on the annexation before the matter was decided by the appellate court.

In a similar annexation case in Fayetteville last year, the city proceeded with its annexation efforts, Burnette said, only to be told by the Appellate Court to stop the efforts until the case was decided.

The annexation opponents scored one court victory when Crow ruled last month the city had not properly followed the law in putting together its annexation plan.

City officials were told if they wanted to continue to pursue the annexation, they would have to go back to the drawing board, submit a new study of the area, hold another public hearing and put the matter to another council vote.

The court found the city had not properly prepared its water service plan, and city officials were ordered to re-do the proposal.

Eldridge said he and his clients were pleased with the final judgment issued by Crow last month, but they also felt that the ruling on the Lane Farm/Howell Properties claims needed to be addressed by a higher court."

According to Eldridge, the appeal process could take a year or more.