All about annexation
The City Council says the issue is dead. Seven councilors -- everyone except Neal and Baker -- voted for a consensus against the idea of annexing all the area within Tulsa's north fenceline in one fell swoop. I'm watching "This Week @ City Hall" -- Chris Medlock and Roscoe Turner are talking about areas in their districts that have been within the city limits for decades but still lack connection to city water and sewer services. Their point is that we need to maintain and in some cases install infrastructure to ensure continued investment in the areas already within our city limits. Tulsa is "doomed" to be a core city -- we are nearly surrounded by the boundaries or fencelines of other cities -- so we had better make it the best core city possible. Opponents of grabbing all the north area at once also point out that we have yet to extend roads, water lines or sewer lines to the large area of Wagoner County we annexed a few years ago.
Industries in the Cherokee Industrial Park have expressed opposition to annexation, as it will mean higher property and use taxes. Some have suggested that their opposition is merely an opening gambit in the renegotiation of tax incentives that are set to expire soon. Residents don't want to give up the freedoms they have in an unincorporated area -- raising farm animals, burning trash instead of paying someone to haul it off, even setting off fireworks.
Meanwhile, the Mayor continues to push for annexing the entire area at once. In a speech to neighborhood leaders at the "Mayor's Night Out" event last Tuesday, he was at his loudest and most animated when he urged neighborhood leaders to contact their councilors in support of annexation. In support of annexation, he expressed concern that unincorporated areas would be developed anyway, but not to the standards required for construction within the city limits, which would cause problems for the city when the area is finally annexed.
The Whirled is the only other cheerleader for annexation, and the editorial board has blasted the councilors who oppose annexation with a fury that makes me suspect they have some business interests at stake.
I haven't made a detailed comparison, but Tulsa County has a zoning code which is similar in scope and level of detail to that of the City of Tulsa, and both zoning codes are administered by the Tulsa Metropolitan Area Planning Commission and the planning staff of INCOG. The same subdivision regulations apply to both the city and unincorporated Tulsa County. It may have been true in the past that you could lay out and build a substandard subdivision in unincorporated territory, but I don't think it's true now. (Links to both zoning codes and the subdivision regulations are here.)
The other concern raised by the Mayor is that new legislation (SB 905) will make it more difficult to annex the land in the future. It is true that as of November 1, 2004, a narrow fenceline will no longer be sufficient to permit the annexation of land without the consent of the owners. For years it has been the case that if a city's boundaries surrounds an area on three or more sides, the city can annex the area without the consent of the owners. That will still be true, but "surrounding" will only count if the surrounding portion of the city is at least 300 feet wide, not counting the road. Fencelines are typically 25 to 50 feet wide, only taking up the width of the road. So the city would instead need the consent of the owners of at least 50% of the acreage in the annexed area. This shouldn't be hard to accomplish if the city can offer added value to the property owners in the form of city services. In the meantime, the area is protected for Tulsa's future expansion by the existing fenceline -- adjacent cities can't jump the fence to annex.
One more essential point: When annexing territory without the consent of the owners, a city must develop a plan for extending full municipal infrastructure and services to the annexed territory within 10 years. The plan has to be in place before the public hearing on annexation. If the city fails to provide those services, the law requires the city to detach the area, making it unincorporated once again. The hearing is only a few weeks away, but I am not aware that such a plan has been prepared or released. Providing those services to such a large area (bigger than Tulsa was in the '20s) will impose a burden on Tulsa taxpayers in the tens of millions, and there should be some analysis done to determine if there would be payback in the form of increased revenues. The kind of development that occurs in the newly annexed area will have a major impact on that analysis.
Several of the councilors who oppose annexation of everything would support gradual annexation with gradual extension of city services. And if I read the state law correctly, annexation with an owner's consent does not oblige the city to extend services within 10 years.