Pittman, Ford introduce bill to undo Kannapolis satellite annexations

  • Posted: Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:42 a.m.
    UPDATED: Sunday, April 7, 2013 12:56 a.m.

KANNAPOLIS — The latest chapter in a debate over development and annexation opened in the N.C. General Assembly this past week.

Rep. Larry Pittman (R-Cabarrus) and Rep. Carl Ford (R-Rowan, Cabarrus) are sponsors of a bill that would repeal the 2007 law allowing Kannapolis greater authority for voluntary satellite annexations.

If it were to pass, any land outside of a 3-mile radius from the previous city limits that had been annexed at the property owners’ request would be de-annexed and returned to Cabarrus County.

The bill is the latest wrinkle in a debate involving the city of Kannapolis, the owners of a 75.9 acre parcel off N.C. 3 who want to develop the land and nearby residents of the Odell community.

Nearly six years ago, the landowners voluntarily requested annexation.

Because the parcel is outside the 3-mile radius from the city limits where annexations are allowed, a special bill was filed in the General Assembly to grant it — a bill opponents of the annexation have called unfair.

But, in an email interview Friday, Kannapolis City Attorney Wally Safrit said such special permissions are “not unusual.”

Safrit said the statute “has been amended dozens of times by a multitude of N.C. cities to provide for specific issues,” although he didn’t give examples.

In the years since the annexation, residents opposed to plans for development at the site have fought a court battle to reverse the city’s zoning decision.

In the meantime, the land where Wayne Brothers, Inc., had planned to build its headquarters, as well as a retail development, has remained empty.

A 2012 N.C. Supreme Court ruling overturned the city’s zoning because of a procedural error.

In February, the Kannapolis Planning and Zoning Commission voted to apply the same zoning district, with minor changes, once more allowing the mixed-use development owners had planned.

The Kannapolis City Council voted March 25 to uphold that decision.

The repeal bill was first shown to the press in draft form at that meeting by StopRezoningNow spokesman Fred Wally.

In an email to the Post on Friday, Pittman said he got involved in the issue to try to negotiate a solution between residents and the city.

Earlier this year, Pittman arranged meetings among city officials, Kannapolis’ representatives in the N.C. House and rezoning opponents.

“I promised the Odell residents that I would introduce this bill if (the zoning issue) could not be resolved otherwise,” Pittman wrote.

At the same time, Pittman said, “I do not think this is the best solution to the dispute … The city failed to move toward compromise; so I filed the bill.”

Pittman said the bill, among other things, would remove the threat of what he called “inappropriate development” from the area.

But, as written, the bill would nullify all of the satellite annexations permitted under the 2007 law.

Kannapolis City Manager Mike Legg said the impact might impact as many as a dozen properties, though the city’s planning staff had not provided specific figures.

“It if were to pass, it would impact the Wayne project significantly as the process for developing the property as intended would revert back to Cabarrus County,” Legg said.

“That would result in more time delays and possibly the inability develop the project as originally intended … significant lost opportunities in job and tax base growth for both the city and county.”

Legg said the bill might also affect property values. “It’s hard to know what that would look like,” he said.

Even as he voiced his support, Pittman told the Post, “… I do not feel confident that this bill has a chance of passing. I expect that it will be killed in committee and never come to the floor of the House for a vote.”

Rep. Linda Johnson (R-Cabarrus) told the Post that she will oppose the bill.

The seven-term state representative supported the original legislation allowing voluntary satellite annexations.

“I believe then and now that this is in the best interest of the citizens of the area, the city and the county,” Johnson said.

“It is my duty to represent citizens and to do what I believe it is in the best interest of all,” Johnson said.

Ford and N.C. Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, of Kannapolis, did not respond to requests for comment.

Both Pittman and Wally have said that, in that case, the outcome would likely be another lawsuit to overturn the zoning decision.

Wally told the Post that StopRezoningNow plans to raise money for legal fees with a barbecue on April 13.

“Also, we are inviting the members of the Kannapolis City Council, Mike Legg and the directors of the Planning Department to come out for a free meal,” Wally said.

He said that Ford, Pittman, Johnson and Hartsell would also be invited.

“We do this to try and show everyone involved that while we strongly disagree with what Kannapolis is doing to us; we always have the hope and desire for discussion and negotiation,” Wally said.

Contact Hugh Fisher via the editor’s desk at 704-797-4244.

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