08/10/06 — Group still might challenge decision

View Archive

Group still might challenge decision

By Andrew Bell
Published in News on August 10, 2006 1:49 PM

Residents of neighborhoods along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads are considering whether to appeal a North Carolina Court of Appeals ruling that denied them the legal status to challenge a previous annexation by the city of Goldsboro.

The residents, who are fighting annexation by the city, had hoped that they could prove the previous annexation of the Lane Farms and Howell properties was invalid. If that annexation was invalid, then the city would have no grounds on which to annex the Salem Church and Buck Swamp neighborhoods since they would no longer be contiguous to the city limits.

Members of Good Neighbors United, a group formed by some residents to oppose the annexation of their neighborhoods, will meet and discuss whether they want to continue to pursue the issue, the group's lawyer, Jim Eldridge, said this week. The group has until early September to make a decision, Eldridge said, but he added that he believes they will continue the fight.

They likely will try to get the state Supreme Court to hear the case, but since the ruling by the Court of Appeals was unanimous, it would be up to the seven members of the high court to decide whether they felt the issue needed further review. Had the decision been split, a review by the Supreme Court would have been automatic.

The Supreme Court has no jury, and it makes no determination of fact. It only considers error in legal procedures or in judicial interpretation of the law.

The Court of Appeals issued its ruling last week. Justices Robert Hunter, Ann Calabria and Wanda Bryant said that Good Neighbors United did not have the legal right to address the legitimacy of the annexation of the Lane Farms and Howell properties, which was voluntary.

The justices did not address the issue of whether the annexation of the Lane and Howell properties in 2002 was valid, but simply said that Good Neighbors United does not have the right to question it.

Eldridge had argued that the annexation of the Lane Farms and Howell properties was improper because not all of the property owners involved in that voluntary annexation signed over the right for the city to annex the land. That is required by law.

Good Neighbors United has been battling the city over the annexation for two years. Residents say the city will offer them no services that will make up for the increase in taxes they can expect.

State law permits cities and towns to annex adjacent land even if residents don't want to be included in the municipality if certain criteria involving boundary lines, population density and other factors are met. The city says the Salem Church and Buck Swamp neighborhoods meet the criteria.

The two sides have been in and out of court since the neighbors group first sued the city in 2004. They forced the city to go back and redraw its annexation plan but the city persisted and a second plan passed muster and was approved by the Goldsboro City Council last year. The group sued again but Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand ruled in the spring that Good Neighbors United did not prove that the city's annexation plan was faulty and that city officials had made sound plans for providing services such as fire and police protections that are required by state statute.