Goldie Road annexation hopes dashed

A recent state Supreme Court decision has put an end, at least temporarily, to Oak Harbor council members’ plans to annex the Goldie Road commercial area into the city.

Beyond this city, an Association of Washington Cities official said the ruling is going to create “a major difficulty” for municipalities statewide by hindering cities’ ability to grow.

“I think the court was oblivious to these difficulties,” AWC Director Stan Finkelstein said, “or they just didn’t care.”

Oak Harbor Councilman Bob Morrison, a proponent of annexing Goldie Road, has been in touch with Municipal Research and other organizations around the state since the ruling. He said the high court’s decision could dramatically change the way cities grow and how — or whether — municipal services are shared.

“The ruling creates a real mess throughout the state,” he said.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 that the petition method of annexation, which is by far the most common method, is unconstitutional because it “offers privilege to a favored minority.”

The petition method allows cities to annex a chunk of contiguous properties if the owners of 60 percent of the assessed value of the land agree to it. But the Supreme Court decided that method was unconstitutional because it gives the owners of high-valued land more power to decide the fate of larger tracts of property.

Finkelstein said the ruling “flies in the face of the Growth Management Act,” which compels cities to identify areas for future annexation. He added that the inability to annex through petition will make life difficult for growing cities. Business and residents located outside of city boundaries but want to come in for services — from water to police — are out of luck.

In Oak Harbor, many of the businesses located in the county off of Goldie Road have signed pre-annexation agreements with the city in exchange for water or sewer service. A pre-annexation agreement means that the property owner agrees to annexation in the future. The original idea behind the extension of services to Goldie Road was that the businesses would someday come into the city and pay their fair share of taxes.

But now, Finkelstein said such pre-annexation agreements are meaningless.

It’s bad timing for city council members. Councilman Paul Brewer has been pushing for years to get the city to start annexing the Goldie Road area. The issue was finally supposed to be on the city council agenda March 19 — at Morrison’s urging — but the court ruling a few days earlier cancelled that.

Instead, City Attorney Phil Bleyhl held a closed session to break the news and discuss a threat of a lawsuit related to the Goldie Road annexation.

According to Bleyhl, the ruling leaves only a couple of annexation methods that can be used.

There’s an election method, but it comes with other problems. Under the method, only residents of an area — not property owners — can vote for an annexation.

That sets up a weird scenario in which people, say, renting an apartment in an area can decide whether or not large pieces of property that others own will be annexed into a city.

Morrison pointed out that there are only four residents in the rather large Goldie Road area. There are two houses, a kennel business with a residence and an mechanic business with a residence.

“By law, it looks like those four people control the fate of Goldie Road,” Morrison said. He added that the ruling also affects the the city and county’s new blended development standards for the area.

Finkelstein said there’s also an “urban enclave” law that allows cities to annex county land that is 80 percent surrounded by city land. He said the law, which is supposed to encourage squared-off boundaries, seems untouched by the court ruling.

For now, Morrison said the defendants in the Supreme Court case — Moses Lake and Yakima — are both filing motions for reconsideration with the court. The AWC and GMA supporters are filing “friends of the court” appeals.

Finkelstein said the AWC is working with Legislators to draw up a new law for annexation that is both constitutional and fair. In the meantime, cities will just have to wait.

“The ruling clearly is going to create some major problems, at least until 2003,” he said. “Nobody is sure what the solution will eventually be.”

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