"Service issues, misinformation" lead to rejection of 20-year plan

Friday, April 13, 2007

Smith, Porch list various growth issues

Marshall County's building official has been assigned to collect and report details on why county commissioners voted against a 20-year growth plan showing where municipalities may annex land.

"Lack of a plan of service, inability to provide services and misinformation given to the coordinating committee" were reasons stated by Commission Chairman Sam Smith who'd been charged by the commission to name a panel that would provide an explanation for the commission's 10-8 vote against the 20 year plan.

Smith's three reasons apply to the Chapel Hill Urban Growth Area, a topic of extensive public debate in recent months as a number of residents around the city have said they don't want to be annexed.

While the 20-year plan is to define urban growth areas, beyond which annexation is illegal without a readjustment of the urban growth boundaries, the growth areas are not necessarily places that will be annexed. Chapel Hill's town board has voted to not annex land without a request.

Smith's list of reasons reflects an understanding of annexation procedures. Municipalities are to have a plan of services for areas that are to be annexed. Service plans are to show how and when municipal services are to be provided. Those include water, sewer, sanitation, police and fire protection.

Details on why commissioners rejected the plan are to come from Building Official Don Nelson. He's to write a comprehensive report based on interviews with commissioners who voted against accepting the proposed revision of a 20-year growth plan.

The proposed plan is to modify a plan adopted nearly seven years ago as required by state law.

Smith was asked if his position was influenced by issues regarding water service areas for the town and the Marshall County Public Utility Board.

The commission chairman replied, "Yes and no."

Marshall County's water service is engaged in an expansion program. Territorial issues have emerged and the commission chairman explained his two-pronged answer.

"No, in the idea that it's a turf war," he said. "It's not a matter of 'This is our area,' over boundary lines, but the ... ability to provide [water] is."

Before issues were discussed, the committee elected Commissioner Rocky Bowden to be chairman. Bowden is also chairman of the Marshall County Board of Public Utilities, the county's water board.

Bowden said he was surprised to be named chairman and when asked if he thought the underlying reasons for rejection of the new 20-year plan was water service areas, Bowden replied, "Let's just wait until we get our presentation and get a more organized answer."

However, Bowden also said, "It [water service] has to be an issue to a certain extent, but I think the best thing is to wait and see what comes out of the matter."

The committee voted 5-1 to have the building official write a report explaining why the plan wasn't approved.

Commissioner Scott Porch told the committee he'd been advised by his constituents in the southern part of the county that they were concerned about the size and shape of the urban growth area designated by Petersburg officials.

"The majority of the people who will be in the urban growth area are against it," Porch said. "I've found no one for it. The majority of the people are scared they're going to pull rooftops in" and make them part of the city.

Petersburg's growth and the town's need for more revenue were also concerns reported by Porch.

There's another concern which Porch and Nelson discussed with the Petersburg Board of Mayor and Aldermen on Monday night, they said.

The Petersburg board was asked to reconsider the size and shape of their proposed urban growth area, Nelson said. The discussion was cordial and included review of flood plain maps as prepared by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Because a large portion of Petersburg's growth area is in an area prone to flooding, according to the FEMA map, the territory is generally considered a poor location for development, and therefore illogical for annexation, Nelson indicated.

It was unclear how soon Nelson will have completed interviews with commissioners who voted against the proposed revision to the 20-year plan. Therefore, no date has been set for the next meeting of the committee established to explain the commission's vote.

State lawmakers require counties and their municipalities have 20-year plans so they will deal with annexation issues instead of taking them to the Legislature, a practice that permeated deliberations on Capitol Hill in the mid- to late 1990s.