July 05, 2012The Davidson County commissioners have won the right to set up their Maginot Line on their border with Guilford County, in hopes of blocking High Point annexations in Davidson County they don't like.
The relevant part of the new law is the following:
"No city not primarily located within the territory of Davidson County may adopt an annexation ordinance under any of the provisions of Article 4A of Chapter 160A of the General Statutes that applies to 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."
So for now, according to High Point and Davidson County officials, Davidson County commissioners can reject any annexation by High Point in Davidson County, even if was voluntarily requested by the property owner.
High Point, for its part, has said that owners of property in Davidson County shouldn't bother coming to High Point asking for voluntary annexation to get High Point sewer service. High Point Mayor Becky Smothers said property owners should approach the Davidson County Board of Commissioners first.
"They will say, 'You have limited my land to a development pattern that is not cost effective,'" Smothers said of the property owners. "And they won't get sewer service, because we don't give sewer service without annexation."
Smothers said that High Point didn't lobby against the bill, although she did send a letter opposing it to Rep. Julia Howard, the senior chair of the House Finance Committee.
"Well, for openers, and maybe it was a bad call, we saw no reason to go down and have a fit in Raleigh," Smothers said. "We didn't have anybody in our camp there."
That does seem like a bad call by High Point. Local bills are generally reserved for noncontroversial legislation that affects only one county or municipality – and had High Point raised a stink, the annexation bill might have been considered controversial.
"They looked at it only in terms of the Davidson County delegation, I assume," Smothers said. "In that case, it was noncontroversial, I assume."
"Who in the world would have thought a Republican legislature would act on a bill that restricts the rights of property owners?" Smothers said. "If someone wants to sell their property, they have to go to the Davidson County commissioners."
Smothers also said High Point didn't lobby heavily against the bill because it was introduced by North Carolina state Rep. Jerry Dockham.
"I think the world of Jerry Dockham," Smothers said. "I respect him. He's a nice man, and he's helped High Point on issues. It didn't seem worth it for the embarrassment to him if they were going to pass it. We didn't have any recourse anyway."
Chairman of the Davidson County Board of Commissioners Sam Watford said that he too was surprised – at least that language giving his board control over voluntary annexations made it into the final bill and was enacted.
"It really surprised me that it passed with the voluntary as well as the involuntary," Watford said. "That was the big issue. But nobody seemed to mind it. We've got people living in fear of annexation, and there's no reason for that."
How much that fear of annexation is justified is disputed between High Point and Davidson County. High Point has not used involuntary annexation since the 1980s except in one 1992 case. Davidson County Manager Robert Hyatt said he didn't see the law as an attempt to keep High Point entirely out of Davidson County.
"I certainly would not call it a wall at the county line," Hyatt said. "What our commissioners have always wanted was a voice in that process. A city that annexes now goes through a process to see if that annexation is good for that city. Right now our county hasn't had that, and our counties in general haven't had that – to look at it and say, do we have the capacity in our schools and infrastructure?"
Smothers said the new law would make an ineffective wall.
"It's not a wall between two counties," she said. "It's essentially a net that Davidson placed around Davidson"
Just how porous that net is depends on the strictness of the requirements the Davidson County commissioners put on property owners seeking annexation by High Point. The main objection raised against some developments built in Davidson County and annexed into High Point has been that they were too dense, and their populations strained Davidson County schools and services.
Watford said the Davidson County Board of Commissioners will probably consider each annexation separately, rather than setting any hard-and-fast rules against annexation in certain areas, and that there will be more to each consideration than the density issue. He said other issues that affect Davidson County include traffic safety and the effect on adjoining properties.
"I can only speak for myself, but I feel like we'll look at them individually, at the issues and the impacts on the schools," Watford said. "And impacts on the neighborhoods and if it's being developed according to our zoning ordinance."
High Point has annexed considerable property in Davidson County as a result of property owners requesting annexation to get High Point sewer service.
Even Watford said that not all the High Point annexations into Davidson County have been bad.
"We've got some nice developments in High Point that are in Davidson County, there's no question about that," he said. "There's just some that were developed too densely."
North Carolina state Sen. Stan Bingham said that he didn't think the Davidson County commissioners would use the bill to prevent voluntary annexations. He said that blocking voluntary annexations would almost certainly land the commissioners in court.
"I just see a huge battle on this and the county commissioners losing on this," Bingham said. "People don't want to be told what to do with their land."
Davidson County won its battle with the ratification by the North Carolina General Assembly of House Bill 943, a local bill proposed by the Davidson County commissioners and initially filed on April 25, 2012 as Senate Bill 796 by Bingham.