For the first time in its history, a growing and hungry Charlotte is considering taking a bite out of a neighboring county.
On Monday the Charlotte City Council begins considering its latest round of annexations: six areas totaling 11.1 square miles and containing about 18,700 residents.
While the sections are located on all sides of the city, one in particular has garnered attention. Located in the Highland Creek area, the parcel actually crosses into Cabarrus County.
Several cities in the area have annexed across county lines in the past. Davidson is in Mecklenburg and Iredell counties. Mint Hill and Stallings are in Mecklenburg and Union counties.
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But this would be the first time Charlotte made such a move. When city leaders were informed of the proposal last week, Mayor Pat McCrory was skeptical.
“I'm going to need a lot more information on this,” he said. “I'm worried about the precedent. We could be opening up a can of worms.”
Every two years Charlotte takes up the issue of annexation. In 2007 the city added 4.7 square miles, affecting about 7,100 people.
The 2009 proposal would be more than twice that size and would add about $1.5 billion in real and personal property to the city. It would also increase Charlotte's population to 715,500.
But many experts say annexation is an important part of keeping a city vibrant and healthy. Cities such as Buffalo and St. Louis exist in states where annexation is difficult. Some say it's a major reason the cities have withered over the years. Their populations have moved to the suburbs and the cities have been hemmed in, unable to reverse the trend.
“The argument is that the suburbs near those bigger cities get the benefits of their proximity without really paying for it,” said Vicki Bott, an assistant director at UNC Charlotte's Urban Institute.
Bott said some cities can be too aggressive with annexation. Historically, this has not been the case with Charlotte, she said.
“I'd say the city has been proactive, but not aggressive.”
Challenge of Highland Creek
For more than a decade Charlotte and the city of Concord have agreed that neither would cross the Mecklenburg-Cabarrus county line. But over the past couple of years staffers on both sides have found it challenging to provide municipal services to the Highland Creek area.
The section, part of the Eastfield annexation proposal, is little more than a sliver of land that holds about 50 townhomes and a part of the 14th hole at Highland Greek Golf Course.
“You can only get to that piece of land through Mecklenburg County, so it's a real pain in the neck for Concord to provide them with services,” said Jonathan Wells of the Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning department.
About half of those who live in the area are retired. For many, the idea of becoming part of Charlotte is not that appealing.
“I really don't need another bill,” said Carol Bowlus. “And that's what would happen if we became part of Charlotte.”
Bowlus lives in a townhome at Brookings Drive, just a few units from the county line. A retired teacher from Baltimore, she moved to the area two years ago and fell in love with the warm weather and beautiful views of the golf course. But as a retiree she lives on a tight budget.
“That will just take another bite, along with the increases in everything else, like food and gas,” she said.
If the City Council approves the annexation of her neighborhood, residents would be in the unique position of being residents of Charlotte and of Cabarrus County. This means they would pay taxes to both municipalities.
Charlotte's tax rate is 0.4586 cents for every $100 of valuation. Homes in the area go for about $190,000, which means they would be looking at a city bill of about $876 a year.
But according to Wells, the increase could be offset some by changes in other bills, such as lower insurance premiums and changes in their home-owner fees.
Wells said the area currently falls under the jurisdiction of a fire station on Davidson Highway in Concord. If it became a part of Charlotte, the homes would be served by a station on Ridge Road, about 2 miles closer.
“This could lower their premiums,” he said.
Myra Cordell lives a few doors down from Bowlus. Her son, Brandon, attends school in Cabarrus County and she doesn't want that to change.
“That would be a deal breaker for me,” she said.
Wells said taxes come out of the county tax bill, so Cordell's son could still attend school in Cabarrus.
The City Council is expected Monday to issue a resolution of intent, which will allow staffer to begin contacting residents in the concerned areas. That would be followed by public meetings on the issue in September and October.
The council would likely consider the changes in November and if approved, the new sections would be official in June of 2009.
As for the section in Cabarrus, Concord City Manager Brian Hiatt said both city councils would have to approve a modification of the annexation agreement. The section is in a Concord annexation area, meaning the city could have annexed it later.
Hiatt said there are a few other areas north and south of Interstate 85 on the county line that have the potential to be swapped during annexation, but those sites have not been identified yet.