With little discussion and fanfare, the city's revised annexation plan moved forward last night as an audience of opponents quietly watched.
The Winston-Salem City Council raised questions and suggested more changes to the plan, which was revised and trimmed down last week in response to complaints from Forsyth County residents and from council members.
City Manager Bill Stuart released the trimmed version Tuesday. It reduces the annexed area from 34 square miles to 22. The plan also lowers the amount of the rural acreage that the city would take in by 50 percent and decreases the proposed population from 24,000 people to 18,000 people.
Last night, the council reviewed the revisions and directed Stuart to begin preparing the legal documents required for the scheduled vote June 23. Members also raised questions, which the city staff will answer and the council will discuss again at its regular meeting at 7:30 p.m. Monday.
Paul Norby, the city-county planning director, explained the levels of development and population density required for an area to qualify for annexation.
Council Member Vivian Burke said she wants to make sure that the changes are fair across the board.
"I would like to look at these large tracks of land and see how many are owned by developers and what they plan to do with them," she said.
Changes to the plan come after weeks of stormy meetings with county residents included in the plan. More than 1,000 people turned out at a public hearing last month to make their displeasure known. The city council responded by giving Stuart new guidelines for annexation. They included reducing the rural areas and using more clearly defined boundaries, such as roads or proposed roads, to decide the city's new borders
Council members said that the revised plan is better than before, but Council Member Robert Clark said he would like to see more property near the northeast corner of the city east of Old Rural Hall Road taken out of the plan.
"It is an obvious rural area," Clark said.
The biggest criticism of the annexation plan is that it takes in too much rural land.
About 40 of the people who have fought against it attended last night's meeting. They weren't allowed to speak. They wore stickers that said "no forced annexation," and carried signs expressing discontent.
Alton Fulk lives off Sawmill Road southeast of the city. He said he was relieved when he learned that his property was dropped with the revisions. But he showed up last night carrying a sign that said, "Vote them out."
"No matter how you look at it, this is still forced annexation," he said. "I'm supporting the ones who didn't get dropped."
Fulk and others are being careful not to get too excited. Stuart has cautioned residents who are being removed from the initial plan not to think they won't ever be annexed. He said that the city will continue considering areas as they develop.
"We are at least temporarily relieved," said David Robertson, who lives on Fraternity Church Road southwest of the city and was excluded in the revised plan.
Robertson said that although it appears that the plan will eventually be approved, he will continue to support the people who will be annexed.
"I am not going to be annexed," he said. "But I am sympathetic to the ones who are and who are still hoping for minds to be changed.
Last night, Council Member Vernon Robinson was the only member to vote against proceeding with the revised plan and for the city manager to prepare the legal documents needed for approval. Robinson has opposed annexation and last night he drew applause from the crowd when he said: "When this process started, many thought it was a done deal. I would like to congratulate the citizens and the Citizens for a Sound Economy who got one-third of the annexation out ... and for the folks still being annexed, it's not over until it's over."
Victoria Cherrie can be reached at 727-7283 or at email@example.com