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Annexation foes get chance to speak out

South Boston News
Attorney James Cornwell and Interim Clarksville town manager Charles Lee make a presentation to the Commission on Local Government. (Susan Kyte photo) / January 30, 2013
After two days of touring Clarksville and hearing testimony from residents affected by the town’s planned expansion, members and staff of the Commission on Local Government left town promising to render an advisory opinion on a county-town annexation agreement by no later than May 7.

During their visit, four Commission members and three staffers sought assurances that Clarksville has the physical and financial wherewithal to provide municipal services to residents and businesses that are to be annexed, while seeking a fuller understanding of the terms of the voluntary agreement between Mecklenburg supervisors and Town officials.

James Cornwell of Sands Anderson, who represented Clarksville during the annexation process, described the 722.54 acres that would, if approved, come into the town limits: west along Virginia Avenue to the intersection of the Highway 58 bypass; southeast of town along Buggs Island Lake from the Springfield subdivision to the former Burlington Industries plant; and southwest of town adjoining both sides of Highway 15 near Noblin Farm Road.

Several residents at the northern tip of Old Rock Road — in what is known as the Old Springfield Subdivision — objected to the annexation of their property. They included Harman Saunders, Vicki Burnette, Montgomery Maxted, and Brenda Hairston. They are among the 14 residents who are not served by or have access to town water and sewer. Each claimed that they would see a rise in taxes while getting no benefit.

Except for Saunders, who owns J. Harman Saunders Construction Co. in South Boston, the residents told Commissioners that as retirees on fixed incomes, annexation would hurt, not help them, due to having to pay town as well as county taxes. They also said they did not want or need trash collection services, but even if they wanted the service, their roads could not accommodate town trash trucks.

Robin Bowlin, who lives on Tisdale Road near the Springfield subdivision, shared the same concerns as the residents of Old Rock Road. She lives on a private road that cannot accommodate town trash trucks. Moreover, she has a well and septic system that has served her for over 30 years, she told the Commissioners.

“The annexation plan, as written, does not preserve nor enhance the quality of life for those in the Tisdale Subdivision [which is only three family members’ houses] and does not bring in any new services,” Bowlin said.

Calling it “immoral to tax where there is no growth,” she argued, “The annexation cannot be for revenue alone.”

Earlier, Cornwell told Commissioners that Clarksville’s annexation proposal has little to do with revenue. While Clarksville stood to gain some revenue, he said, it amounts to less than $100,000 per year. The main motive behind the annexation move is to give Clarksville room to grow.

One of Burnette’s objections was that neither she nor any of her neighbors were ever polled to learn their position regarding the annexation. She cited an arbitrary figure —75 percent — for support of the plan that the county established when it was objecting to the Annexation proposal. Initially the Board of Supervisors claimed it would not agree to any annexation unless Clarksville demonstrated that 75 percent of the residents in the affected area agreed to be annexed. Burnette said, “75 percent of the residents in Springfield Subdivision did not agree.”

Virginia’s annexation law does not call for 75 percent residential support, and Mecklenburg County abandoned this requirement when it signed off on the annexation settlement agreement.

Three local business leaders also spoke against the annexation. Their focus was on the area west of downtown along Virginia Avenue. Rodney Moore, of Moore Chevrolet, Doug Jones, who owns Ace Hardware, and Justin Eubanks, owner of Signs and Designs, objected to having to pay additional taxes — county and town — and license fees should their properties come into town limits.

Moore, who already uses the town sewer system, noted he would pay less for that service as an in-town customer, but expressed concern about the manner in which the town will levy taxes on his business — for personal property and license fees. “We are a wholesale operation, a retail operation, a service department and a rental agent,” Moore said. “What category will they [the town] tax us under — all of them?”

Harman Sanders, who owns the property near the intersection of Virginia Avenue and Highway 58 Bypass, said he opposed annexation of that property because the town had other properties served with water and sewer that are not being annexed. He asked, “Why this property?”

The answer to that question was given by Cornwall: “That intersection [Virginia Avenue and Highway 58 Bypass] is the entrance, the gateway to downtown Clarksville, and part of its commercial strip.”

Some of those who spoke against having their home or business annexed into the town assured the Commission they favored it for other areas.

Eubanks, who said annexation could very possibly force him and his family to move from the area, told Commission members, “As a two-time President of the Clarksville Chamber of Commerce and member of the IDA, I am not opposed to growth. I want Clarksville to be a viable economic place, but this annexation will only bring a financial burden to me and my family in tough financial times. Our quality of life will be threatened.”

Only two people came forward in support of the annexation: Steve Connor, a developer of Stripers Cove — a subdivision near Old Mill Village off Old Rock Road — who told the commission members that before he developed the Cove project, he agreed to have the properties annexed into the town in exchange for accessing the town’s water and sewer systems.

The other was State Senator Frank Ruff, who furnished a letter read by interim Town Manager Charles Lee. Ruff, who as a resident of the area known as Mill Village which would be annexed into the town, reminded residents of that area it was the town, not the county, that supplied sewer services when the Burlington Plant closed. If not for the town, most of the people would have had to abandon their homes because their land could not handle a septic system.

Susan Williams, one of three Commission staff present in Clarksville, said it was not unusual for members of the Commission to hear only from those objecting to an annexation. While their comments would be considered, several of them spoke to whether the annexation was expedient and necessary. “That is not our standard. Once an agreement is reached, we must decide whether the agreement provides for the orderly and regular growth of the town and county together, provides for an equitable sharing of the area’s resources and liabilities, and if it is in the best interests of the community at large. The community at large encompasses the entire County, not just Clarksville.

Wayne Carter, Mecklenburg County Administrator, and the County’s Attorney Gregory Haley, of Gentry Locke Rakes & Moore, assured Commissioners that, in their view, this agreement allowed for orderly growth, ensured an equitable sharing of resources and liabilities and was in the best interest of the County.

As written, the agreement includes two revenue sharing provisions between the County and the town which could potentially bring to the town hundreds of thousands of dollars in new revenue. It also, for the first time in many years, invites a spirit of cooperation between the County and Clarksville when it comes to jointly promoting tourism in the area. Most important, to Clarksville, according to Haley, it gives the town an industrial site — the former Burlington plant — a commercial strip, and several acres of new residential property so it can grow its population.

Speaking on behalf of the town, Vice Mayor Connie Torres said the annexation will “keep the town moving forward, bring areas in that are suitable for development and provide a commercial tax base. If the annexation does not go through, Clarksville will be landlocked and relegated into being a tourist center, which makes all revenue seasonal and which mappers or kills industry. Our children will not stay, since agriculture has declined they will leave to find new opportunities.”

Lee said, “The vision to make Clarksville a better place is why Town Council pushed this issue. We recently revitalized our downtown with new sidewalks and water and sewer upgrades. We have a new modern police facility, which was done without debt to the town. There are capital fund drivers underway for the fine arts center and the library, and the Clarksville Ruritan Club is the largest in the state, contributing $200,000 back to the community each year. The rehab of the old Burlington site is one of the most exciting developments for the town because it is one of the most attractive industrial sites in the state. Development of this site can be a game changer for this town, which wants to be ready for growth conditions that the town faced ten years ago and which it believes will be back.

“To sum up, [this agreement] is a locally backed reconciliation between the needs of the town and county and provides both jurisdictions with growth opportunities. It is a win-win for both. The town gets viable land and the County gets lower utility costs, and there is revenue sharing.

Before concluding their hearing, Commissioner Harold Banning and Williams asked for additional data to show the cost and feasibility of running water and sewer lines into the Old Springfield and Tisdale Subdivisions, and satisfying Bannister that the town has the capacity to bring new customers on line.

Williams said the Commission will continue to accept public comments, in writing, on the annexation, until February 11. Anyone wishing to comment can send a letter to the Commission on Local Government, 600 East Main Street, Suite 300, Richmond, VA 23219.

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