Annex plan lawsuit sought

A group of Cumberland County residents who live in an area included in Fayetteville’s annexation plan is considering suing the city.

The Gates Four homeowners’ association has retained a lawyer, but the residents of the gated-community near Hope Mills are waiting until after the Fayetteville City Council’s Nov. 24 vote on annexation to decide what action to take, said association president Bobby Gleaton.

The Gates Four neighborhood is part of the 28 square miles the city wants to annex. The annexation would add 43,000 people and extend the city’s boundary to the Hoke County line.

The city said it wants to annex the areas because they are urban and have a higher density of people per acre than Fayetteville now has. The city says it will provide services such as professional fire and police protection, storm-water drainage and trash collection to the residents.

The annexation also would bring sewer service to those with failing septic tanks, city officials have said.

Residents say they oppose annexation because it is too costly. They say they are satisfied with the services they receive from Cumberland County and private contractors.

Those who oppose annexation in Wilmington and Winston-Salem said Gates Four and others may be waiting too long to organize their fight.

Kelliene Fisher of Forsyth Citizens Against Forced Annexation said it is important to organize early. Her group opposes Winston-Salem’s plan to annex 18,000 residents.

“Don’t wait until after the vote,” she said. Her group lost momentum and members because it waited, she said.

The Winston-Salem council approved the plan in June. The matter could go to court in December, she said.

But even if residents can get a court date, rarely can they stop an annexation, said Wilmington lawyer Gary Shipman.

“The chance to defeat it are slim to none,” Shipman said. “The chances to delay it are based on did the city follow the law?”

Wilmington experience

Shipman represented about 50,000 Wilmington residents in two different annexations.

He said the residents were successful in delaying the annexations, but ultimately, Wilmington annexed most of what it initially sought.

Shipman said successful annexation suits are technical, challenging whether the city meets the requirements set by the state.

Andrew Romanet Jr., general counsel for the League of Municipalities, said most of the challenges are about land designations, whether an area is residential, commercial or industrial and whether it meets urban density standards.

A flawed annexation report won’t stop the process, either, said Shipman and Romanet.

“Unless it can’t be fixed, the judge will remand it to the local government and give them a chance to fix it,” Romanet said.

Shipman said challenges that the state’s annexation law is flawed because residents do not have a vote on the issue, “have been rejected by every state and federal court.”

Allen Page, state director for Citizens for a Sound Economy, said residents should have a right to vote on annexation.

The 1959 annexation law allows for involuntary annexations, without a vote by those affected. Page said the law needs to be changed.

Getting the law changed would be difficult because the League of Municipalities is one of the strongest lobbyists in the state, he said.

Page said communities undergoing annexation fights need to band together to have a chance at changing the law.

Fisher said the Forsyth Citizens Against Forced Annexation is interested in forming a statewide group.

Staff writer Don Worthington can be reached at worthingtond@fayettevillenc.com or 486-3511.

Copyright 2003

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