Posted by: Patricia Salkin | December 3, 2015

TN Appeals Court Finds Plaintiff Failed to Meet Its Burden of Proving Annexation Ordinance was Unreasonable

On August 17, 2011, the Town of Huntsville initiated annexation proceedings involving certain properties located within the Town’s approved urban growth boundary. One affected property, nominated Parcel 10, was owned by the plaintiff, Oneida Farms Development, Inc. (“OFDI”). OFDI’s parcel consisted of approximately 1,800 acres of raw, unimproved land and contains only dirt logging roads, and was contiguous to the Town’s boundary and surrounded the Town’s water reservoir. the Town’s Board of Mayor and Aldermen met in regular session and adopted Resolution 11–08–01, approving the plan to annex the subject property, as well as Resolution 11–08–04, which approved a plan of services that would be provided to the affected property. OFDI sought a temporary restraining order preventing the second reading and adoption of the annexation ordinance, which the trial court denied. Based on the evidence presented, the trial court concluded that OFDI had failed to prove that: the annexation ordinance was unreasonable for the overall well-being of the community; or the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens and property owners of the municipality would not be materially retarded in the absence of such annexation.

The court first noted that the factors to be considered in assessing the reasonableness of an annexation included: the necessity for, or use of, municipal services; the present ability and intent of the municipality to render municipal services when and as needed; and whether the annexation is for the sole purpose of increasing municipal revenue without the ability and intent to benefit the annexed area by rendering municipal services. While Daniel Billingsley, who testified on behalf of OFDI as one of the officers of the corporation, maintained that OFDI did not intend to develop the subject property such that the provision of garbage collection, inspection services, and the like would be of no utility to OFDI, he conceded, however, that if OFDI sold the property or it was developed in the future, having access to the Town’s services would be valuable and beneficial. Moreover, OFDI’s purported lack of desire to avail itself of available services provided by the Town was found to not be dispositive when the Town had committed to providing valuable services as needed. Regarding its purpose for the annexation, the Town represented that annexation of the property in question was necessary to protect the water reservoir and “[get] ahead of development” that might impact the water supply. OFDI also failed to prove that the health, safety, and welfare of the citizens and property owners of the municipality and territory would not be materially retarded in the absence of this annexation. Accordingly the court concluded that the trial court did not err in determining that OFDI failed to meet its burden of proving the annexation ordinance to be unreasonable.

Oneida Farm Development, Inc. v Town of Huntsville, 2015 WL 7184757 (TN App. 11/16/2015)

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