03/17/06 — Both sides rest in case concerning annexation

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Both sides rest in case concerning annexation

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on March 17, 2006 1:45 PM

A decision on whether the city of Goldsboro can annex an area along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads won't be known for several months following the end of a court case challenging the city's plans.

Testimony ended Thursday in the trial in Wayne Superior Court. After hearing closing arguments, Judge Ripley Rand ordered lawyers for both sides to draft written briefs outlining their arguments. He said he would issue a decision after studying the briefs, which must be submitted by late April.

Rand gave no indication when he would render his decision.

During his closing argument, Jim Eldridge, the lawyer for the residents suing the city, said they would not benefit from the annexation although their taxes would go up dramatically.

"The primary purpose (of annexation) is to promote sound urban development with the services. The city is not offering anything meaningful or beneficial to the residents," Eldridge said.

Former city attorney Harrell Everett, who represented the city, said the decision should be made based on the law that governs municipalities' ability to annex adjacent areas.

"The issue in this case is whether the city complied with the statutes and the order of remand, and the evidence shows we've complied," he said.

The city has met all the legal requirements for involuntary annexation, Everett said. The city will provide to the newly annexed area every service that is available to current city residents, including more fire hydrants, more street lights, sewer and water service, fire and police protection, he said.

"No one can argue that we haven't given additional benefits to the people," he said.

The residents of the proposed annexation area sued the city two years ago to stop the plan. A judge ordered the city to redraw its plan, the city complied, and the residents sued again after the City Council voted a second time to annex the property.

During Thursday's testimony, developer Bill Lane testified as to why he voluntarily annexed 360 acres of his property, which is adjacent to the neighborhoods being considered for annexation. That annexation made the Salem Church and Buck Swamp neighborhoods, known as Phase 11 in the city's long-term annexation plan, contiguous to the city limits and therefore eligible for annexation.

Lane said he had no knowledge of why the city would choose the Phase 11 area for annexation, but he explained why he sought to have his 360 acres of land annexed.

He said state highway officials wanted to use his land to create an intersection between the new U.S. 117 bypass and the proposed U.S. 70 bypass. Some residents of the area wanted to form their own municipality. A bill was introduced in the Legislature to create a municipality called Northbrook, which would have included the Phase 11 area. It died in committee.

Lane said the area "became a battle zone," between interests. He said he preferred to be part of Goldsboro rather than an emerging municipality.

"It keeps people from attacking your land. They would have to go to the Planning Department to do it. I didn't want to be a part of Northbrook. I wanted a place with 150 years of experience," Lane said.

During the day's testimony, City Council members and former city officials were questioned concerning why the area was chosen for annexation.

During a 2001 City Council retreat, Councilman Chuck Allen said the council decided upon Phase 11, a section of New Hope Road in proximity to Eastern Wayne High School and other areas for possible annexation. At the time, though, he said the council was not set on annexing any particular piece of property.

"I don't think we took any kind of formal action. This was just a plan for the future and it didn't get any further than that," Allen said.

The council decided Phase 11 would be the best place to annex because of the possibility of the growth from the new highways, he said.

Once Lane presented his petition for voluntary annexation, city officials decided to make plans to extend services beyond Lane's property. Former City Manager Richard Slozak testified that Phase 11 was one of the fastest growing areas in the county and would be a good area in which to extend city services.

"If the area didn't have it, we figured it would be a benefit for them," Slozak said.

Slozak said he did not discuss the issue of contiguity of city limits with the Phase 11 area with the council when it was first considered for annexation. City Council member Don Chatman, a former planning director, and Allen also testified that they did not have any discussions concerning contiguity at that time.

Allen testified that a sewer line would be the biggest benefit to the Phase 11 area.

"I have been through those neighborhoods extensively. After a long rain, you can smell the sewage in the drains," he said.