Adam Wallworth, Northwest Arkansas Times
Annexation has long been a topic of debate for elected officials, but for some Fayetteville residents it is the painful reality of rampant growth.
At its March 15 meeting, the Fayetteville City Council will consider annexing 235.8 acres on Deadhorse Mountain Road. The proposed annexation would create a small island of county property within city boundaries. State law says that if an area of land is completely surrounded by a city’s boundaries, the city may annex that property without the consent of any property owners in the area.
City planning officials plan to take advantage of the law if the annexation is approved by the council, but some residents of the "island," which includes eight parcels of land, would prefer not to have their property brought into the city. "I do not want to be in the city," said Theoma Leach, owner of one of the parcels in the potential island.
Leach said that while it is her son, Robert, who lives on the property, she and husband, Hartsel, bought the property because it was in the county. "One reason we bought the place is because it’s secluded," Leach said in a phone interview this week. "We wanted to be out where there wasn’t a lot of people.
" We probably don’t have a chance. I just don’t approve of it. "
The annexation policy in the city’s General Plan 2020 offers guidelines that have been invoked whenever a request of incorporation is brought forward. The complexity of the issue, however, led to the creation of an Annexation Strategy Task Force, which produced a recommendation to annex 19,260 acres.
Although the recommen- dation stalled before reaching the Planning Commission or City Council, it was cited by commissioners who favored the annexation of the land on Deadhorse Mountain Road.
The commission approved the annexation at its Feb. 14 meeting, but commissioners were still talking about it at their agenda session Thursday.
Candy Clark, who voted against the annexation, again expressed her desire for the council to make a policy decision in the matter. The lack of a clear annexation policy requires the commission to do more than what it is charged to do, she said, which is to review requests for compliance with city ordinances.
Ward 2 Alderman Kyle Cook, a member of the task force, shared Clark’s sentiment, and expressed his growing reluctance to continue annexing county land.
Cook said that while he favored sending the task force recommendation to the commission and council for debate, its findings should not be used in making recommendations.
" No way. It’s not solid enough to make decisions on, "Cook said." It was a recommendation to forward to debate. "
Although the General Plan 2020 is not law, its guidelines went through the proper steps, he said.
" There’s no policy behind the [task force’s] recommendations, "Cook continued." At least the 2020 plan was guiding policy that was debated and voted on. "
Though it’s anyone’s guess as to what happened to the recommendations of the task force, Cook said, the issue needs to be brought back up before annexation continues.
" I don’t know what happened to it, "he said." I’m not going to support any more annexation till I see that come back. "I’m really kind of back where was when I was voting against annexations. I did vote for two or three since then but I have kind of renewed my attitude. I don’t think annexation is good for us right now."
It was difficult but necessary for staff to recommend to the commission approval of the annexation of the 235.8 acres, said Jeremy Pate, director of current planning.
Pate explained that the developers’ original request did not include the entire 235.8 acres and could have been in compliance with the General Plan, by leaving a 50 foot strip along Deadhorse Mountain Road. That option would have also left several acres of land in the flood plain in the county, he said, which would be very difficult to develop. "It would have been a technicality," Pate said. "Not smart planning."
The land in the flood plain would have not likely been brought in for a very long time if not brought in now, Pate said. The original proposal would have had essentially the same effect, with the city nearly encompassing county property, though not quite, he said.
Under state law, there are three ways cities can annex unincorporated land: if it is completely encompassed by the city limits, the council can vote to bring the land in; if property touches the city limits, the land owner can petition the city to be annexed, which the council must approve; or with the consent of voters.
The General Plan also states annexation peninsulas should not be created or extended, Pate said. Because the area to be annexed was already about 80 percent surrounded by the city, from the county’s view it would be a peninsula, he said, as commissioner James Graves "astutely" said at the commission hearing.
The recommendations of the task force have not been abandoned, but simply fell victim to the pursuit of tax increment financing, said Tim Conklin, director of planning and engineering development.
Tax increment financing redirects property tax to fund projects in a redevelopment district, and is one source of potential funding for the $25 million Mountain Inn replacement project. Relatively new to Arkansas, legal issues surrounding the financing tool have captured most of the council and key city staffers attention over the past months.
Conklin said that because the general plan is due to be updated this year, it would be best to tackle the annexation issue at that time. The general plan is a comprehensive planning tool, including land use and annexation, he said.
The update will be done through a public process, Conklin said, so it would be the ideal time to address the annexation policy. It is impossible to determine where Fayetteville should grow, without discussing the type of land uses that should be in the various parts of the city, he said.
As the Fayetteville Metropolitan Statistical Area continues to grow, Conklin said, the reality is that the urban fabric is spreading. The advances in septic systems is also allowing for the development of higher density subdivisions in the county, he said.
Property is being developed with urban density, whether it is in the city or not, Conklin said. The question is will the metro area be interspersed with pieces of unincorporated land, or will it be developed to city standards, he said. "We’re not isolated," Con-