Planners prioritize annexation areas

By Thomas Wilson

   The city of Elizabethton could be expanding its girth, primarily in the county's east end, as annexation into the city's urban growth area begins to take shape for 2004.
   Elizabethton Regional Planning Commission voted to recommend four areas likely to be annexed into the city limits next year at Tuesday night's meeting.
   "This commission has never done anything in that you asked the city to bite off more than it can chew," said David Ornduff, city director of planning and development.
   The four areas recommended for potential annexation in 2004 by the Planning Commission are:
   * East of Riverside Drive and south of Old Charity Hill Road in the East Side community, affecting 19 residences and 49 people
   * Stateline Road beginning at and including the Carter County Highway Department property to the Stateline Road/U.S. Highway 19E intersection, affecting 13 people
   * U.S. Highway 19E to George Bowers Bridge in Valley Forge including the road and all property fronting the roadway, affecting 45 parcels
   * East of the Elizabethton Municipal Airport and including portions of Sharp Lane, Beryl Fletcher Road and Robert Taylor Road
   "All four could be annexed in 2004," Ornduff told the commission.
   The four areas were given top priority out of 10 sites designated for future annexation by city staff. Ornduff said city staff members had reviewed existing city utility services, police and fire department response time, and the affect annexation would have on the city school system in terms of busing and student increases.
   All four areas adjoin the city's existing corporate boundary. All areas except U.S. Highway 19E had been recommended for annexation to the Elizabethton City Council by the commission in the past, Ornduff said.
   The city's Urban Growth Plan passed more than three years ago under state order setting the city's future growth areas and likely annexation plans for the coming years. The plan requires the city to implement a plan of services prior to any annexation. The plan of services designates water and sewer line access, public safety protection and solid waste disposal among other city services provided to annexed residents.
   Ornduff said the highest costs for annexations typically came from extending sewer lines. Capital costs had been examined by city staffers.
   Three of the four areas have existing water and sewer services or are immediately capable of providing such services.
   However, the annexation of U.S. Highway 19E through Valley Forge does not presently have sewer service. Ornduff said city staff projections had sewer service eventually being established along that portion of U.S. Highway 19E in five to seven years. He also said fire department protection was in proximity that it would not necessitate construction of a new fire substation or negatively affect the ISO (Insurance Services Office) rating of property owners in the Valley Forge annexation area.
   Commissioner Manual Bandarra expressed his concern with prioritizing that annexation for next year given the sewer line construction.
   "I have a problem with that because of the sewer service," Bandarra said.
   Bandarra said he recalled times when the planning commission heard from citizens who had been annexed and waited years for sewer service that never came. "We don't want that to happen," he said.
   Ornduff said sewer service would be extended along the highway. He cited tight demands of municipal governments set by state law pertaining to urban growth and services that must be provided to citizens.
   "It's not as easy for cities to say they will do something and then not do it," he said.
   Commissioner Ken Markland also questioned the decision to prioritize the U.S. Highway 19E annexation over the industrial park when most water and sewer service was effectively in place near the park. Some industries located in the Watauga Industrial Park are not completely zoned within city limits.
   Markland also wondered if the city had planned to bring county roads - that frequently take the shape of narrow paved paths - up to city standards under the annexations.
   "Some of these streets can only take one-way traffic," he said. Ornduff said street maintenance was addressed in the plan of services, but acknowledged that did not guarantee a narrow county road would be brought up to city standards immediately or even quickly.
   The commission voted 6-0 with Nancy Alsup absent to approve the four designated areas for annexation to the Elizabethton City Council.