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Wednesday, January 4, 2012
Cantankerous Council Commands Crooked Contract, Crosses Commission
In a unanimous vote on Tuesday night, the Wilmington City Council voted to go forward with a satellite annexation of a developer's property located in the Marsh Oaks area of North Market Street, some two miles from the city boundary.
What makes this especially interesting, is that the reason this issue even came up, is because the New Hanover County Commission denied the developer's zoning request to build a 282-unit apartment complex in an area that simply cannot handle anymore traffic load. The developer simply went to the city to ask to be annexed in exchange for favorable zoning to build his project, despite NC case law specifically addressing this type of bilateral agreement between city and developer, and citing it as illegal in two cases specifically, Chrismon v. Guilford County; and especially in Good Neighbors of South Davidson v. Town of Denton. The issue is also discussed at length in a very insightful article by Robert Ducker for the UNC School of Government.
Despite hearing from dozens of concerned citizens from the affected area, as well as other citizens concerned with the unnecessary excesses of government, the city council proceeded without hesitation. Many excellent arguments were made against this as being a completely raw deal for the upper middle class neighborhood of Marsh Oaks, who will now have to welcome Section 8 voucher receivers - and the statistical crime that accompanies them - as their neighbors, despite their personal decisions to purchase their properties in an affluent part of the county.
Council's only concerns were whether or not they had to provide any services to the developer's property. The answer was largely no, so it appeared as a win/win to a council completely indifferent to a community's plight. Furthermore, two of the New Hanover County Commissioners addressed the council, warning them that going through with this as presented would severely hinder the previously good working relationship between the city and county. Since the ignoring of this warning, the fallout has already started to transpire.
Councilwoman Margaret Haynes, in her typical smug disposition, stated that she often hears how government should be run like a business, and in doing so, she would apply a cost-benefit analysis to this issue. According to her, the decision is all benefit and minimal cost. However, she has never shown any propensity to conduct the affairs of government in any other way like a business, such as cutting taxes and implementing cost-saving measures to run more efficiently.
Several citizens alluded to the obvious quid pro quo that seemed evident between the developer and the city. One glaring testament to this was that the developer's own PowerPoint presentation was entitled, "Voluntary Annexation & Zoning Request". This truly speaks to the nature of the issue, that the developer is only asking to be annexed if in fact he can be granted the proper zoning to go forward with his project. The NC Supreme Court has defined this practice as "illegal contract zoning"; and it is, in fact, illegal.
Councilman Kevin O'Grady, also smug in his tenor, feigned outrage at several citizens alleging a "deal" between the developer and the city, stating that he never made any such deal. However, although a true deal may in fact be in the works, even without a solid "deal" being struck, it is obvious to anyone with any intelligence that there is a definite understanding between the two entities about what needs to take place for both to benefit.
County Commission Chairman Ted Davis stated that this is a slippery slope, since the precedent is set that anyone who has a project denied by the county, can simply approach the city for what they want, and the city will most likely oblige. This current council has made it clear that Wilmington is, in fact, for sale.