Monday, June 4, 2012

Wilmington City Council Uses Satellite Annexation to Punch Holes in County with Higher Density Development

City Council Grants Developers Special Zoning Request in Exchange for Tax Dollars from Annexation

In spite of what you might hear in the news, annexation is alive and well in the city of Wilmington. This week Wilmington’s newest tax payers will likely be future residents of a track of land under development at 6469 Gordon Road, just down from Lewis Farms.

The track of land is .67 mile from the city limits. If everything goes as planned, the track would be annexed by the city of Wilmington and in turn rezoned to meet the developers requirements.

According to City of Wilmington planning commission documents, the track in question is currently zoned R-15 by the county, which allows for 3.8 units per acre. Under the proposed rezoning, density would increase to 9.4 units per acre per the city’s multi-family MF-L zoning. That would be a total increase of 60 units on the 9.99 acre development.  The report also acknowledges rezoning by the city would increase vehicle trips by 50%. 

Since the City of Wilmington gave away its water and sewer utilities to the CFPUA, it has little to offer residents outside of it borders to encourage voluntary annexation. It can however entice developers to offer their property up for annexation with the promise of special zoning request. Once the deal is done, the higher number of housing units means more profits for the developers and more tax dollars in the city coffers. These type deals skirt state law on contract zoning.

Contract zoning is where a landowner and government enter into a written agreement and make promises to each other, which is illegal in North Carolina. With the annexation request and rezoning consideration taking place at the same meeting, it seems it’s understood by all involved exactly what the deal is: that if the property is annexed, the special zoning request will be granted. Since the deals between the Wilmington City Council and developers are not actually in writing, technically they’re not illegal.

Satellite annexation laws, as they are currently written, are outdated. They now seem to serve as little more than a way for developers to make an end run around county zoning policies. In the end, county residents are left with higher density development, increased traffic congestion and no say on what goes on in the community around them.

The state legislature should address the issue. Without the ability to immediately rezone these properties, the City of Wilmington would probably see an end to satellite annexation request.