Council Candidates on Annexation

Brent Finnegan -- October 22nd, 2008

Continuing the Q&A series with City Council candidates: Since Harrisonburg has a history of annexing to expand the city limits — the last one occurred in the 1980s — we asked,

Virginia’s annexation moratorium for independent cities is due to expire in two years. Are you in favor of annexing into Rockingham County? If so, where and why would you propose such action? If you oppose annexation, or the moratorium is extended, what alternatives does a growing city have?

Roger Baker: To begin, I don’t believe the General Assembly will allow the moratorium to expire, that said I would not be in favor of hostile annexation. You negotiate with your neighbor and work things out for the benefit of the whole area. There may be opportunities to form partnerships or an authority like the sewer authority to address common interests.
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J.M. Snell: Annexation is only appropriate when growth immediately outside the city impacts city infrastructure without supporting that impact financially. We need to exhaust all other methods of supporting city infrastructure before even considering annexation.
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Charles Chenault: I am not in favor of lifting the annexation moratorium. To do so, would be costly, continue to result in duplication of services and discourage city county cooperation.
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Richard Baugh: Should there be a rule that says I can take my neighbor’s property, so long as an independent third party says I pay enough for it? It seems clear that such a rule is likely to ensure my relationship with my neighbor will never be but so close.

Therefore, I am generally opposed to hostile annexations. I could see some use for it in its traditional sense, which is to say annexation of concentric development where services can be more efficiently provided by a core city than by a surrounding county. I see no use for it in the way it has been used locally, which is to say taking large swaths of undeveloped land from Rockingham County. In fact, I would argue that the legacy of annexation is at the core of most of the dysfunctional attitudes toward growth and development we have seen, and continue to see, in Harrisonburg.

Yes, historically Harrisonburg has had annexation as a cornerstone of its policy, even if being polite required that one never say this is the case. We are now in a world where we have to plan as if there will never be more annexation. This creates problems for parts of our local development community, who have never had to confront a world where undeveloped land is in short supply. And being human, there is a natural tendency to want to keep doing what has been profitable in the past, which in Harrisonburg has tended to mean build apartments.

I have good news for the local development community. As undeveloped land becomes more scarce within the city limits, well, scarce resources tend also to be more valuable resources. If we treat them that way. But it does require a change in perspective. If we are going to further our goal of providing that quality small urban living option I keep talking about, we have to stop the rush to fill every square inch of undeveloped land with an apartment building. We can build things that enhance the quality of the city by considering things such as aesthetics, green spaces and building up rather than out. And the developer can still make plenty of money.

Applying those and similar principles are exactly how Harrisonburg remains attractive and vital without annexation.

But it is still in the interest of both households to work together whenever they can.

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Dave Wiens: First, people I have talked to who may be in a position to take an educated guess about annexation and its future feel that, in fact, because of the political realities in the state, the annexation moratorium will not end as scheduled. That being said, if we do come to a situation where annexation is possible, we must be very careful in moving in this direction. As noted above, it makes sense to work with the county as much as possible and taking action that causes hostility to arise in this relationship is, in the long run, counterproductive. However, if a community or neighborhood came to Harrisonburg and requested annexation or if Harrisonburg is, in effect, the local government of note for an area, annexation could be considered. Before this takes place, the cost involved for Harrisonburg must be considered.

If annexation is not going to happen, we will be facing other issues. The pressure will then be on infill and redoing neighborhoods. The job of the city, with council’s oversight, will be to provide opportunities to make Harrisonburg a more livable city while protecting neighborhoods. I do not agree that a city must continually grow physically to continue to grow its possibilities.
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We have not yet received responses to this question from Kai Degner, Tracy Evans, or Rodney Eagle. We will add their responses as we receive them. A total of eight candidates (including two incumbents) are running for three available seats on City Council.

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2 Responses to “Council Candidates on Annexation”

  1. JGFitzgerald says:

    When annexation came up in conversation in 2003 or so, I pointed out to my then-council colleague Larry Rogers that the population of annexable counties in VA is about twice that of cities eligible to annex. That made future annexation permission from the state unlikely, I argued. At a council meeting soon afterwards, Larry pointed to his bald scalp and said, “I’ll have hair before annexation comes back.”
    I like his version better.

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