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Lawmakers push changes to state annexation laws

April 05, 2005|by DAVE McMILLION

charlestown@herald-mail.com

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Jefferson County lawmakers are continuing their efforts in the West Virginia Legislature to tighten laws that regulate how cities can expand their boundaries.

Land annexations, particularly those undertaken recently by the city of Ranson, W.Va., have caused concern among county officials.

Ranson has annexed about 3,800 acres since 2002, a growth spurt that has expanded Ranson's boundaries to the east, west and north of its former configuration.

County officials complain the annexations have created confusing boundaries in the county and interfere with their land planning efforts.

One of the main concerns among county officials is "pipestem" annexations, which is the annexation of slender pieces of property to reach larger tracts.

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An example of pipestem annexation was Ranson's annexation of a segment of W.Va. 9 to reach 700 acres north of Wiltshire Road in the Bardane area.

Under a bill passed by the House of Delegates last week, cities would have a growth boundary of three air miles.

The requirement means that cities would be able to annex no more than a 3-mile strip of highway, said Del. Bob Tabb, D-Jefferson.

If cities want to annex more than 3 miles of a road, the towns would have to get approval from a county commission, said Tabb, who sponsored the bill with Dels. Locke Wysong and John Doyle, both D-Jefferson.

Ranson's annexations were completed under a new state law controlling annexations.

Before the law change, annexations could be accomplished through a petition from landowners or a city election, said Ranson Mayor David Hamill. But before a petition could be submitted or an election could be held, there had to be a certain population density in the land being annexed, Hamill said.

The population density requirement was dropped under the new law, meaning that annexations by petition simply needed to have the backing of the majority of property owners, Hamill said.

Under the bill passed in the House of Delegates, at least 20 qualified voters or landowners in the affected area must sign a petition for an annexation, according to a press release.

If the number of petitioners is less than 20, then all qualified voters and a majority of the landowners in the affected area have to sign the petition.

Also under the bill, cities would only be allowed to annex up to 20 percent of their size in a calendar year, according to the release.

The bill is being considered in the Senate.

Sen. John Unger, D-Berkeley, said the measure looks promising, although he stressed it needs approval from a number of committees.

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