The new law does not have much effect on the process for Cleveland residents who request being annexed into the city; however, it changes the process dramatically for cities wanting to pursue such actions on their own.
Cities will no longer be able to annex within the Urban Growth Boundary without community input. The law requires that annexation initiated by the city go to a referendum of the area to be affected. The land would still have to be adjacent to the city boundary and within the Urban Growth Boundary. The Cleveland City Council would have the option to make the referendum open to the entire city rather than just the property owners being affected.
“The new law has essentially extented the moratorium, because that’s what the moratorium did,” said city planner Corey Divel.
The new annexation law puts an end to annexation by ordinance at the request of the municipality. Residents wanting to be annexed by the city can still request it and be annexed without the issue going to a referendum, according to Greg Thomas, city planning director.
Land can also be annexed by the city “when petitioned by a majority of the residents and property owners of the affected territory,” according to Tennessee Code Annotated 6-51-102(a)(1).
Thomas said all of the land in question would have to border the city in order to be considered.
Divel said the city can annex outside the Urban Growth Boundary by referendum of those being affected, just as it could before the law was changed.
Annexation referendums can be held in conjunction with a previously scheduled election. If a special election just for annexation was required, such as in a year where there are no scheduled elections, the referendum would cost about $45,000, according to Fran Green, Bradley County Election Commission administrator of elections.
Divel said the law leaves many of the regulations that dictate the annexation process the way they were.
“The situation before was any area that was within our Urban Growth Boundary we could annex by ordinance,” Thomas said. “The intent of that 15 years ago or so was that you would front-load that process with a lot of public input related to the plan for the Urban Growth Boundary, saying at some point, ‘Because this is urbanizing, we are going to do annexations in here.’”
Thomas said the development of this plan was when the most pubic input was received. However, Thomas said residents could still comment when an annexation came up for a vote before the Cleveland City Council.
Any land between the property being annexed and the existing city limit was also annexed in order to bring city services, such as a sewer system or streetlights to the area. Now, this is not an option. Only property owners bordering the city limits can request annexation.
Thomas said the majority of annexations by the city of Cleveland have received little opposition. The majority of these have started as the result of a request by a business or homeowner.
City staff will still have to develop a plan of service for each piece of land owners want annexed. The City Council uses this plan and the impact on the surrounding city area as a basis for deciding whether to grant annexation requests.
Divel said sometimes challenges to bringing city services to the area mean it cannot be made a part of the city.
Sewer service is one prevalent reason property owners want to be annexed by the city. City ordinance requires anyone outside of the city wanting Cleveland Utilities sewer service to request annexation. Divel said the Council can make exceptions. However, if the land is not adjacent to the existing city limits, the land cannot be annexed under the new state law.
Eliminating annexation by ordinance initiated by the city could mean — because of the way roads are constructed — driving to land that can be annexed by leaving the city limits, then entering the same land again, Divel said.
“I think there are probably going to be all kinds of things that we haven’t thought of yet, just in terms of particular situations that are going to arise,” Thomas said.
Thomas said he felt the changes in the law would lead to “increased urbanization where it is already occurring” rather than looking to annex for new urbanization.
In past meetings, City Council members have said the city will need to market the benefits of city services in order to have property owners want to request annexation by the city.
“A lot of people want to live in a more urban situation, with less yard to take care of and so forth,” Thomas said.
He said businesses wanting sewer service will probably request annexation. Thomas said the requirement to be “adjacent to the city” could be a limiting factor to the city being able to grant the request. This may be an issue that gets more discussion in the future.