08/04/06 — Annexation group loses first appeal

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Annexation group loses first appeal

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 4, 2006 1:51 PM

Residents in the neighborhoods near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads suffered a setback this week after the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the city of Goldsboro in one of the appeals of their annexation dispute.

"If they would have ruled the other way, then we couldn't annex," said Harrell Everett, the attorney representing the city.

Court of Appeals judges Robert Hunter, Ann Calabria and Wanda Bryant unanimously ruled to dismiss an appeal by Good Neighbors United, a group formed to stop the involuntary annexation of their property by Goldsboro officials.

In Hunter's written decision, the judges agreed that the voluntary annexation of Lane Farms and Howell properties, which gave Goldsboro officials the contiguity needed to annex the property near Buck Swamp and Salem Church roads, was a legitimate annexation.

Good Neighbors United had filed the appeal after the first annexation trial in 2004 on the grounds that not all of the property owners within the voluntarily annexed property signed the annexation petition.

Although the state Department of Transportation had condemned a portion of Lane Farms prior to the annexation, the department did not own any property in the annexed area. Therefore, according to the Court of Appeals ruling, all property owners in the voluntarily annexed area did sign the annexation petition.

Good Neighbors United has been fighting the city's annexation request for the past two years -- ever since Goldsboro City Council approved the first annexation ordinance in 2004 to involuntarily annex the neighborhoods.

North Carolina law permits municipalities to annex land even if residents don't want to be included in the city if certain criteria are met.

Superior Court Judge Kenneth Crow agreed in 2004 that the city's ordinance needed to be rewritten and another public hearing scheduled. It was at this time that Good Neighbors United filed an appeal with the state's Court of Appeals, contending that the original voluntary annexation of Lane Farms and Howell properties was not legitimate.

The city complied with Crow's decision by rewriting another annexation ordinance, and officials approved that plan last July. The residents filed another petition challenging the new ordinance, which went to trial in March.

During that trial, Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand ruled that Good Neighbors United failed to meet its burden of proof showing that the annexation would not provide sound development for the neighborhoods, the city could not provide major services to the residents and that the annexation did not meet state requirements.

In a June press release, Good Neighbors United spokesperson Bill Burnette said he did not believe Rand's judgment addressed all of the claims the group had brought to the court. After a meeting among the neighbors and their attorney, the group decided to appeal Rand's decision, which could be heard by the Court of Appeals this upcoming spring.

Following this week's Court of Appeals ruling, Everett said the decision removes one hurdle, but he and city officials will continue to prepare for the neighbors' latest appeal.

Jim Eldridge of Wilmington, the attorney representing Good Neighbors United, said he had received a copy of the Court of Appeals decision Wednesday, but he would need more time before making a comment on its content.

Once Eldridge has studied the decision, he said he will talk with his clients about the next step, which could mean appealing the decision to the state Supreme Court.

When the Court of Appeals rules unanimously, Everett said the Supreme Court hardly ever asks for a discretionary review, but the panel could look at the case Good Neighbors United appeals.