Asheville City Council members have taken the plunge: They've identified six outlying areas as their first targets for involuntary annexation in the new millennium and directed staff to launch the nearly two-year process of annexing those areas, which total more than 1,700 acres.
"You've got a strategy here that closes up service inequities," consultant Richard Flowe told Council during its Aug. 17 work session. Most of the land -- all adjacent to the city limits -- is nonresidential: Lake Julian Park and the CP&L plant, the VA Hospital, businesses adjoining the Biltmore Square Mall, and a handful of businesses on Leicester Highway, he explained. A few single-family homes are included in the proposal, but most of the estimated 1,600 residents whose property would be annexed live in apartments, condominiums or assisted-living facilities, noted Flowe.
And all are allegedly reaping the benefits of city living without having to pay city taxes: At one Biltmore Square Mall entrance, Flowe pointed out, city police officers investigate all traffic accidents and city firefighters assist accident victims -- although the city limits stop "right under the signal lights."
These annexations would also diversify the tax base: Instead of asking homeowners to shoulder most of the load of paying for city services, businesses that use city streets and access other aspects of the "urban fabric" should pay their share, he explained.
What's more, the annexations would bolster city coffers, without demanding substantial expenditures to bring streets up to city standards or extend city services, since city fire, police and sanitation services already serve most of the targeted areas, Flowe noted. The total value of the 1,700 acres in question is estimated to be $127.6 million, he reported.
Not one Council member objected to the proposal: In fact, they suggested adding a little patch of property across from the Biltmore Square Mall, where several motels have located in recent years. Vice Mayor Ed Hay reported that he's heard complaints about some hotels having an unfair competitive advantage, because they don't have to pay city taxes, despite being just across the street from one that does.
Most of Council's inquiries were technical: How many single-family residences are involved? (About 10 percent of the total residential properties, Flowe replied.) How much of the Lake Julian area proposed for annexation consists of the lake itself? (approximately half) And, finally, what's the time line?
"The soonest [these annexations] could take effect is July 1, 2001," Assistant City Manager responded Doug Spell.
The soonest Council could vote on the proposed annexations is probably May or June of next year, Flowe added. The next step in the process involves his company, Benchmark Inc., preparing a "plan of services report," which would detail the exact breakdown of residential and nonresidential properties and estimate the cost of providing services to these areas (almost all of them already have water and sewer services), he explained. Once that report is completed, early this fall, Council would vote on a "resolution of intent," which would identify the specific areas to be annexed. After that come public-information meetings, notification of property owners and holding at least one public hearing (probably next winter), Flowe continued.
He emphasized that no final decisions will be made any time soon: At almost any step in the process, Council members can drop an area from consideration. But he recommended that they not add to the list, once the resolution of intent is adopted. "We would advise you on the side of keeping the public informed," said Flowe.
Council members gave him and city staff the nod to continue.
Hay observed that VA Hospital representatives have previously asked to be annexed, and that an agreement with CP&L about utility-franchise taxes was reached a few years ago, with the understanding that annexation was anticipated for that area.
Council member Barbara Field asked who property owners should call, if they want to find out whether they fall within the boundaries of the proposed annexations (Assistant City Manager Doug Spell (259-5602) or Planning and Development Director Scott Shuford (259-5830), city staff responded).
Other than giving staff the go-ahead, Council took no formal action on Flowe's presentation.
The areas proposed for annexation include:
• 140 acres off Interstate 240, a commercial area that includes the Coleman Office Park (total property-tax valuation: $1.8 million).
• 200 acres located between South Tunnel Road and the Blue Ridge Parkway, which include the VA Hospital, apartment complexes, an assisted-living facility and several single-family homes (total valuation: $8.2 million).
• 1,310 acres that would extend the city limits to the airport, and include Lake Julian, Valley Springs Middle School, the CP&L plant and an apartment complex (total valuation: $38.7 million).
• 10 acres of commercial land on Leicester Highway that include a convenience store and a well-drilling business.
• 185 acres next to the Biltmore Square Mall, including K-Mart and the Ridgefield Business Center (total valuation: $77.9 million).
• A small amount of land near the intersection of Interstate 26 with Brevard Road, where several hotels have been built.