RALEIGH — North Carolina legislators need to take a road trip, going east on Interstate 40 for about 30 miles and then heading south on Interstate 95 for another 35 miles or so to Fayetteville.
After tooling around for a while, they can jump back on the road, heading north for 200 miles along Interstate 95 to Richmond.
Taking in these two cities, North Carolina’s elected representatives can get a good gander of what places look like when they aren’t allowed to grow, when political leaders prohibit annexation.
Right now, the new Republican majority in the legislature seems intent on not only stopping future involuntary annexation, but on undoing some controversial annexations already approved by local town boards.
The state Senate has begun considering legislation to put a one-year statewide moratorium on involuntary annexations. Bills have also been filed to repeal recent annexations in Lexington, Kinston and Rocky Mount. More bills affecting more towns and cities are expected.
Legislators are responding to angry constituents who don’t want to be taken into city limits and don’t want to pay city taxes. Many are transplants from states with far less aggressive annexation rules.
Their belief that North Carolina’s annexation laws are overbearing and unfair shouldn’t be unexpected. They also make the case that cities and towns have sometimes applied the laws unwisely or improperly, giving back residents little in return for their taxes or throwing too much costs on residents — for things like sewer and water hookups — too fast.
Still, there’s Fayetteville and Richmond, case studies in what cities that cannot grow can and will become.
For 24 years, from 1959 until 1983, Fayetteville was legislatively prohibited from taking in the surrounding urban areas. The result is uneven sprawl and ugly commercial development, created first by disparate development standards and then by a race to the bottom between the city and county regarding those standards.
The city where I live, outside of its revitalized downtown, remains one of the ugliest in North Carolina. That ugliness damages residents’ quality of life and hurts the recruiting of major industry. Thirty years ago and today, Fort Bragg is the city’s economic savior.
Up the highway, in Richmond, legislators effectively blocked annexation in 1981. A “temporary” annexation moratorium went into effect in 1987. Virginia legislators extended it multiple times since then, allowing the prohibition to remain in effect for the past 24 years.
Ever since then, Raleigh and Charlotte have been racing past Richmond.
That’s not my opinion. In 2010, Forbes magazine ranked Raleigh third and Charlotte 17th when it comes to best places for business and careers in the United States. Richmond ranked 50th, its job growth 104th, its projected job growth 129th.
Republicans have come to power in Raleigh saying that they are all about promoting job growth. They’ve also come to power on a populist wave demanding more responsive government.
They might want to recognize that how they respond to the second can affect the first.
Scott Mooneyham writes about North Carolina politics for the Capitol Press Association.