By: Andrew Porter
Understanding the law is tough. I’ve spent the last three years studying it. However, it frustrates me to no end to witness a 7-term legislator misunderstand the law, then promulgate these misunderstandings to the masses. Moreover, our wonderful paper (it truly is a blessing to have a local paper) doesn’t bother to do their homework and correct the aforementioned statements of said legislator. Representative Elmer Floyd, the editors of the Fayetteville Observer, Mayor Colvin and members of the City Council, my words are for you. It’s my hope that you will learn that voluntary annexation of Shaw Heights is not only feasible, but the only real option of incorporating Shaw Heights into Fayetteville.
Representative Floyd has introduced legislation to involuntarily annex Shaw Heights. You can read more about his legislation here: https://www.fayobserver.com/news/20190311/proposed-shaw-heights-annexation–bill-could-be-effective-june-30
Involuntary annexation by the NC General Assembly is the fastest and simplest way to annex, however, it bypasses the will of the people; whether they be renters or owners. I can’t speak for Rep. John Szoka, but he has opposed involuntary annexation in the past under similar premises. In short, it is highly unlikely Representative Floyd’s bill will pass; leaving only voluntary annexation as the only real option for Shaw Heights to be incorporation. However, Rep. Floyd doesn’t think voluntary annexation is a likely solution:
“The current law allows property owners and residents to petition the city for annexation. ‘It’s the whole community,’ Floyd said of the current petition process. ‘Renters would also have a say.’ But in reality, it’s not likely that any voluntarily annexation would come to fruition, he said. ‘It’s difficult because you would still have to find absentee landlords and all the (owners of) vacant properties, and all that may be multiple heirs,’ he said.'”
Fortunately for Shaw Heights, Rep. Floyd is wrong. I don’t think Rep. Floyd is intentionally misleading or malicious in his comments, but it seems that Rep. Floyd has mixed together two different parts of NC voluntary annexation law. So, lets see if we can untangle this mess by looking at the relevant parts of the statute:
“Part (a): The governing board of any municipality may annex by ordinance any area contiguous to its boundaries upon presentation to the governing board of a petition signed by the owners of all the real property located within such area. The petition shall be signed by each owner of real property in the area and shall contain the address of each such owner.”
Part (a) is the traditional manner in which an area can be annexed. Under this part, every owner of real property in the area to be annexed would have to sign a petition requesting annexation. The city council would have to adopt the petition with a majority vote. Under part (a), Rep. Floyd’s points are accurate; it would be unlikely to track down every real property owner in Shaw Heights and have them sign the petition, but if we read a little further…
“Part (b1): Notwithstanding the provisions of subsections (a) and (b) of this section, if fifty-one percent (51%) of the households in an area petitioning for annexation pursuant to this section have incomes that are two hundred percent (200%) or less than the most recently published United States Census Bureau poverty thresholds, the governing board of any municipality shall annex by ordinance any area the population of which is no more than ten percent (10%) of that of the municipality and one-eighth of the aggregate external boundaries of which are contiguous to its boundaries, upon presentation to the governing board of a petition signed by the owners of at least seventy-five percent (75%) of the parcels of real property in that area.”
Generally, a petition must be signed by all real property owners. However, under the impoverished area exception, only 75% of the real property owners have to sign the petition. Shaw Heights may qualify for this exception if 51% of the households in Shaw Heights have incomes at or below 200% of the poverty line. Furthermore, under this petition, the City Council SHALL annex by ordinance; making annexation effective upon certification of the petition. But didn’t Rep. Floyd say something about renters….?
“Part (j): Using the procedures under this section, the governing board of any municipality may annex by ordinance any distressed area contiguous to its boundaries upon presentation to the governing board of a petition signed by at least one adult resident of at least two-thirds of the resident households located within such area. For purposes of this subsection, a “distressed area” is defined as an area in which at least fifty-one percent (51%) of the households in the area petitioning to be annexed have incomes that are two hundred percent (200%) or less than the most recently published United States Census Bureau poverty thresholds. The municipality may require reasonable proof that the petitioner in fact resides at the address indicated.”
The residents, renters included, of Shaw Heights may be able to submit a petition under the distressed area exception. Shaw Heights may qualify for this exception based on the aforementioned poverty in the area. To meet this exception, a petition must be signed by one adult resident from at least two-thirds (66%) of the resident households located within the area and reasonable proof of residency may be required. Therefore, renters would also have a say in whether the area is annexed. Moreover, the City Council would have to approve the measure.
In conclusion, there are three different ways to voluntarily annex Shaw Heights. A traditional voluntary annexation petition is unlikely, but I believe the Shaw Heights area qualifies to petition the Council under the impoverished area and distressed area exceptions. I believe the low threshold of the distressed area exception, 66% of residents, is the best way to achieve annexation. So, who wants to canvass Shaw Heights?