House OKs annexation moratorium, study commission

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

The state House has overwhelmingly approved a bill establishing a nine-month moratorium on involuntary annexations and setting up a study commission to consider revamping the state’s annexation laws.

Locally, members of the Shallotte Point Preservation Group (SPPG) favor the moratorium and revisions to the policy. If the bill passes the Senate, they believe it will be a good opportunity for town officials to discuss long-range planning with them.

Group members have been lobbying for more than a year, asking the board of aldermen to consider endorsing the county’s land-use plan for the area—keeping the community low- to medium-density residential to protect the Shallotte River from pollution and keep the existing residential atmosphere.

On July 2, state representatives voted 98-18 to approve the bill and pass it on to the Senate for approval.

State Rep. Bonner Stiller (R-Oak Island) said the next day it’s long past time to review annexation laws, which were originally adopted in 1959.

“Any law allowing the taking or annexing of any property or property rights should be revisited more often than every 49 years,” Stiller said.

“Times have changed dramatically since those laws were put on the books.”

Before the vote, sponsors of the bill hosted a number of hearings in Raleigh and other parts of the state, and Ronald Hobbs, president of the SPPG attended several of the hearings.

“It was surprising the number of legislators and office staff who said this was one of the hottest topics in years. It has really gotten a lot of people interested,” Hobbs said.

Hobbs’ group is watching the issue closely.

“A huge majority of the state wants a moratorium,” he said this week. “We thought the house vote was overwhelming. That’s about the biggest margin [of victory] for a new bill in years.”

He said the annexation vote may be a “huge election issue,” and voters may choose their senators and representatives based on how they vote on the annexation.

Hobbs also hopes the state action will result in some local reform.

“Right now, our main concern is preserving our community,” he said. “I would like to see the town try to do something with what they have as well.”

“Some of our concerns could be addressed very easily,” Hobbs continued, noting it would be best if the town “just adopted” the county’s land use plan.

At last week’s board meeting, Shallotte Aldermen tried to ease the SPPG members’ concerns about high-density development and unwanted annexations.

Aldermen said they had no intention of forcibly annexing the community but wanted to make the transition smoother for property owners interested in voluntary annexation by adopting an agreement eliminating the possibility that the towns of Holden Beach and Ocean Isle Beach could annex them.

Several members urged aldermen to sit down and talk with them about planning for the community’s future to ensure no more pollution of the Shallotte River and lower-density development.

Last month, Shallotte Aldermen adopted a resolution against the moratorium, stating the process has worked for the state for so many years and doesn’t need changing.

“It seems like a select few in the house are responding to a select few in the community who don’t have the whole picture,” town administrator Paul Sabiston said.

Stiller disagreed. He said the moratorium will give the commission the opportunity to hear from people on both sides of the issue and come up with suggestions for revising the law.

Stiller said the commission will determine whether there should be any standards in place before a town annexes property, such as assuring a certain amount of services in a certain amount of time and requiring political representation from the annexed section.

He says annexation changes could be effective, especially if they prevent more towns from forming.

Stiller said about a year ago, a group of Supply residents came to Raleigh to talk to him about possibly incorporating. Brunswick County already has 19 incorporated towns, the most of any county in the state, and Stiller represents 16 of them.

It’s obvious to him county residents are worried about being taken over by neighboring towns, he said.

“Folks are saying we are happy where we’re at, and the town doesn’t bring anything to the table for us,” he said.

Stiller said the moratorium will “give everybody a chance to stand back, catch their breath” and come up with some basic guidelines for annexation.

“The people who want to be annexed still can,” he said.