Is Annexation 'Smart Growth'?

Cities call annexation an effective tool for managing growth at the local level. Counties disagree. Who's really in control?
April 9, 2006, 9am PDT | Arnab Chakraborty
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In a recent stakeholder meeting for the ongoing visioning exercise in the eastern-shore region of Maryland, annexation of adjoining lands by local municipalities was one of the most hotly debated issues. The new laws on cooperation between counties and municipalities in the ongoing Maryland General Assembly is evidence that the state government is also concerned about the growth implications of such annexation measures.

Municipalities annex adjoining land from the county/ies and re-zone them accordingly to accomodate incoming growth. This growth is billed as "smarter", as it is typically denser after rezoning, and contains new development closer to existing infrastructure. The share of power that the city and the county have in making such decisions vary, and are often unclear. The share of public financing and revenues also often lead to disagreements. This has led to multiple laws in the past and has been debated at the local, metropolitan, and state levels.

"The Maryland Association of Counties pushed a bill this year to give counties more say over annexations, putting a 10-year waiting period on some zoning changes for annexed land when counties oppose the change." The cities, as expected, are opposed to such proposed measures.

The resulting bill "requires cities to cooperate more with counties on their annexation plans, but stops short of giving counties veto control and a 10-year delay". "The measure requires more water planning in growth plans and sets up a state commission that will review annexations and how to manage growth. It also outlines more mediation for times when cities and counties disagree over an annexation." (Water is a major growth issue in many Maryland jurisdictions).

Jim Peck, director of research for the Maryland Municipal League warned that "To the extent you strangle municipalities' ability to grow, knowing that growth will occur, it'll happen in a sprawl fashion rather than dealing with water and sewer".

But Bennett Bozman of Worcester County said the compromise "will help get to the real question -- not annexation, but growth."

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Published on Thursday, April 6, 2006 in The Baltimore Sun
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