October 11, 2012
The North Carolina General Assembly's local act giving the Davidson County Board of Commissioners veto power over annexation of Davidson County land by cities outside the county may be challenged in court, according to High Point
Mayor Becky Smothers, who lives in Davidson County.
Also, a policy approved by the High Point
City Council's Planning, Economic Development and Information Technology Committee on Tuesday, Oct. 2, would, if approved by the council, prevent implementation of the law in the way that the Davidson County commissioners apparently intended.
The act, which took effect on June 21, 2012, prohibits the annexation of "any territory located within Davidson County unless the Board of Commissioners of Davidson County has, prior to the adoption of the annexation ordinance, approved a resolution consenting to that annexation."
In other words, Davidson County commissioners can veto any annexation by High Point
in Davidson County, even if was voluntarily requested by the property owner in order to receive High Point
water and sewer service. The language prevents annexation by Winston-Salem and other municipalities, but was aimed primarily at High Point
, with which Davidson County has several cross-border feuds.
The act makes developing land in Davidson County with the intention of having it annexed by High Point
more time-consuming and expensive, even if the Davidson County commissioners approve the annexation. That's because the development will have to make its way through the Davidson County zoning process before doing the same in High Point
That, at least, is the interpretation of Davidson County Commissioner Larry Potts, who requested the act. Potts said the commissioners will apply the same zoning restrictions to developments that will be annexed into High Point
as they do to developments that won't.
Potts and others in Davidson County complain that applying High Point
's zoning ordinance, which allows higher development densities than Davidson County's, drives up taxes in Davidson County to pay for services on its High Point
Potts said, "We just dedicated a $24 million middle school in that area and built an elementary school based on developments that were developed and annexed into High Point
with no regard for our zoning and zoning regulations."
Smothers said there's no reason to apply Davidson County zoning standards to land that is being annexed into High Point
. She said the act has not yet been tested in court, and that a developer, or the City of High Point
, or both, may successfully challenge the local act.
"So they're going to start conditioning our annexations?" Smothers asked. "I think it becomes a question of whether they can legally do that."
Local acts are laws created by the General Assembly that apply only to specific counties or municipalities. In many cases, as in the case of the Davidson County annexation bill, the General Assembly passes them with little apparent thought to their constitutionality or practicality.
The bill that gave the Davidson County commissioners veto power over annexations by surrounding cities did not set standards for granting or denying approval of annexations. High Point
's draft voluntary policy would instruct the High Point
Planning and Development Department to reject voluntary annexation petitions from Davidson County that have not been approved by the Davidson County commissioners or that have been approved with conditions.
The relevant section of the policy reads:
"In counties where Board of County Commissioner approval of a resolution is required by state law prior to the City's approval of a voluntary annexation ordinance, the Planning and Development Department shall accept voluntary annexation petitions and the City Clerk may certify them only when an adopted Board of County Commissioner resolution consenting to that annexation is made part of the petition submittal, an ... acceptance of such annexation petitions may occur only when the approved resolution contains no conditions concerning City Zoning or other land use regulations."
Potts and Davidson County Manager Robert Hyatt said the Davidson County commissioners have not voted on standards for voluntary annexations, or the procedure under which Davidson County would approve or deny them.
"We really haven't gotten into those discussions," Hyatt said. "Just stay tuned."
The coming conflict is fairly clear nonetheless. Potts said that Davidson County is going to use Davidson County zoning standards for density, lot size and the like to decide whether or not to approve petitions for voluntary annexation into High Point
. The policy approved by the High Point
City Council's Planning, Economic Development and Information Technology Committee, chaired by Councilmember Chris Whitley, would reject applications accompanied by Davidson County zoning restrictions.
Once land is annexed by a city, the city rezones the land to city standards and any county zoning regulations no longer apply.
The policy approved by Whitley's committee is peculiarly written. For instance, if the Davidson County commissioners want to deny a voluntary annexation petition by a Davidson County resident based on density, they can just deny it, without inserting in the resolution any "conditions concerning City Zoning or other land use." That would work only if the commissioners just want to prevent annexation.
If the Davidson County commissioners want to allow High Point
to annex land in Davidson County, but require High Point
to follow Davidson County zoning regulations, the policy approved by Whitley's committee apparently would prevent the annexation entirely. Stalemate.
Davidson County's main objection is to dense housing developments that are annexed by High Point
, but which, as Potts said, may require schools. Smothers said it is unclear whether or not the Davidson County commissioners would also try to limit commercial or industrial development that would be annexed into High Point
"They're concerned with density," she said. "Does that mean that certain kinds of commercial and mixed-used development are out? I don't know if they're saying that too. Density to me is residential. But they haven't said to me, 'Some things are OK, and some things aren't OK.'"
Smothers said she didn't think that the local act, however implemented, would hurt High Point
economically. She said, "I don't think that is the issue, as much as the effect it has on people who own property in Davidson County and what they are allowed to do with their property."High Point
's draft policy is also oddly worded because it does not specify that it applies only to Davidson County. As written, it could apply to any of the counties High Point
is in or borders. That seems like an invitation to other counties to seek local acts similar to that passed for Davidson County.
Smothers said, "My argument precisely in committee."
Whitley said the policy will come before the High Point
City Council for a vote on Monday, Oct. 15. He said it may be modified before the vote....continued on page 2