By Anessa Myers
Published in News on January 20, 2008 12:31 PM
The final chapter in a battle over annexation of property along Salem Church and Buck Swamp roads by the city of Goldsboro was likely written by an appeals court judge, who ruled that a decision in the city's favor should stand.
But leaders of Good Neighbors United, who have fought the city for four years, say they might appeal the appeal one last time -- to the state Supreme Court.
"I have to talk with my fellow committee members, but it's very likely that we will take it there," the opponents' group president, Bob Pleasants, said Friday.
City officials learned last week that the state Court of Appeals had decided that a previous judge had made the right decision when he said the city could proceed with annexing the neighborhoods.
In a brief filed Jan. 15, the North Carolina Court of Appeals upheld the decision made last June by Superior Court Judge Ripley Rand in favor of the city. The residents who oppose the annexation have 10 days to file an appeal to be heard by the state's highest court.
But the Supreme Court does not hear every case requested. The Supreme Court makes no determination of fact. Instead, it considers error in legal procedures or in judicial interpretation of the law. If the justices do not feel that there is a legitimate question of law involved, they decline the request.
In the latest decision, the Court of Appeals overruled every claim of judicial error the residents had made against Rand.
The legal wrangling started nearly four years ago, in April 2004, when the city council approved an ordinance annexing areas on the east and west sides of Salem Church Road and on the north and south sides of Buck Swamp Road.
Subdivisions, or parts of them, that were included were Ashby Hills, Fallingbrook Estates, Morgan Trace, Buck Run, Pineview Acres, Tarklin Acres and Canterbury Village. Residents of the neighborhoods to be annexed fought the proposal from the start, forming an alliance -- Good Neighbors United -- that argued that the city's plan was flawed.
They won that round and city planners were forced to go back to the drawing table.
But a second plan was formed and approved. When the opponents sued the second time, they lost.
The residents' complaint was that a previous annexation that had set them up to be next in line was flawed. The annexation of land owned by the Lane and Howell families was not legal, they contended. But in October 2004, Judge Kenneth Crow ruled that the residents couldn't attack that annexation.
The residents appealed that decision, but the Court of Appeals eventually ruled against the residents regarding case, saying they had no standing to appeal. In January 2007, the Supreme Court denied a request for review of the Lane-Howell appeal.
Meanwhile, after the city's new annexation plan was approved, and the city proceeded again to annex the area, approving the measure in July 2005.
That led to protests outside city hall and another lawsuit.
The city filed a motion to dismiss the second lawsuit, but in January 2006, a judge denied the city's motion for summary judgment, sending the case back to court. A ruling came in June, with Judge Ripley Rand deciding that the city's new plan was legal. Rand said the residents had failed to meet the burden of proof in three areas. To stop the annexation they had needed to show that the annexation wouldn't provide sound urban development for the neighborhoods, the city couldn't provide major services and that the annexation didn't meet state requirements.
The residents appealed that decision, which the Court of Appeals heard in September 2007.
It took three months for the justices to reach and write their opinion.
The residents have 15 days from the entry of the opinion to appeal to the state Supreme Court, said attorney Darrell Brown, a partner of City Attorney James Womble. If no appeal is filed, annexation will go forward.
Good Neighbors United's attorney Jim Eldridge could not be reached, but Pleasants left the door open to a final appeal.
"Of course we are disappointed," Pleasants said. "We will be meeting with our lawyer, but our intent from the beginning was to carry this thing just as far as we could. I think it's unfair, I think its illegal, too, but I think it's unfair."
City officials hope the appeals are over and that they can finally move forward with the plan to bring the area into the city limits.
"Once the annexation takes place, I look forward to building relationships with those in the affected area, and I will try to meet or exceed the expectations of the residents," City Manager Joe Huffman said.
Huffman said residents will receive city services as soon as possible, once the final legal hurdle is overcome.
"We're ready. We're set to go. We just need to get things finalized," he said.
Mayor Al King has emphasized the city's need to grow and to take in developing areas around it.
"The city needs to grow or it will die," he said. "Every decision I have made has not been because of any group or any personality but for what is best for the city of Goldsboro."
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