Wake commissioners give towns power over county property owners

While opponents of forced annexation are hopeful the new Republican majority in the General Assembly will enact meaningful annexation reform, Republicans on the Wake County Commission recently extended the power of two municipalities to control private property in areas near the towns.

Only one Republican, Paul Coble, voted against granting extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, to the towns of Wendell and Knightdale. That means that more county property owners will be subjected to the planning and zoning ordinances of the towns, even thought they don’t get to vote for town leaders or participate in town government.

ETJ is designed as a prelude to annexation. The idea is to allow the town or city to prepare the rural area as it transitions from rural to urban development. In supporting the recommendation, county planning board chair John Miller told the commissioners, “We are not in transition, but past the transition from rural to urban.”

In practice, however, most municipalities given ETJ authority never annex the areas. Annexation instead is used selectively, not for the supposed purpose of providing services but in order to bring in revenue.

In other words, if a town or city is strapped for money it takes over affluent surrounding neighborhoods in order to get more money through property taxes. Areas that will not bring in significant property taxes are ignored, resulting in “doughnut-holes” and a patchwork pattern of municipal boundaries.

Predictable, the only people speaking in favor of the ETJ requests at the public hearing were town officials and professional planners. In contrast, those who spoke against ETJ were citizens passionately pleading in defense of the right to use their own property which provided their very livelihood.

“My husband died on that land,” said Sue Puryear, who has lived outside Knightdale since 1958. “They might just as well have put a knife in my heart.”

Sarah Tant, a dairy farmer near Zebulon, told commissioners she lost half the calving season because of the blasting for a nearby planned subdivision that still hasn’t been built. “They destroyed my house,” she said. Tant, 75, said she and her family have lived and raised cattle on the 100 acres farm her entire life.

James Dunn, who farms outside Knightdale, said that nearby areas taken under ETJ still haven’t been developed. “If you ‘ETJ-ed’ these areas in, let the growth come there,” he told commissioners.

Commissioner Stan Norwalk, a Democrat, dismissed their pleas with the typical excuse, justifying the action as needed for “the orderly growth and expansion of our municipalities within Wake County.” That’s statist speak for “we know better than you how you should use your property.”

Republicans will gain control of the commission in December, when Phil Matthews replaces Democrat Lindy Brown. Brown voted against the ETJ measure.

Meanwhile, forced annexation opponents are optimistic that Republicans in the General Assembly will act more favorably to protect property rights. “I do believe there are now leaders in place who are committed to annexation reform,” said Doug Aitken, president of the Fair Annexation Coalition. He said he and other forced annexation opponents have met will some legislators who are drafting a new annexation reform bill.

One of the meaningful reforms opponents of forced annexation advocate is to give the people in the area target for annexation the right to vote on the annexation. They would also require municipalities to provide promised services such as water and sewer as soon as they are annexed and without additional cost to the people being annexed.-