The Herald Bulletin

August 9, 2013

Anderson files suit against Lapel over 'strip' annexation

City wants courts to invalidate blocking move

The Herald Bulletin


Mayor Kevin Smith isn't ready to give up his hope of expanding Anderson's corporate boundaries down to Exit 214 along Interstate 69.

His administration on Friday filed a lawsuit in Madison Circuit Court 6 challenging a "super-voluntary" strip annexation the Lapel Town Council passed at the request of a group of landowners intent on blocking Anderson's expansion efforts. The town's annexation extends from Lapel down to Pendleton.

City lawyers argue in court documents that Lapel's annexation, which was recorded on May 30, violates Indiana's Home Rule Act because it does not comply with state annexation laws. Specifically, the lawsuit contends that Lapel's annexation does not meet contiguity requirements in state law and is therefore invalid and unlawful.

The total perimeter of the annexed territory is 25,719 feet, of which only 311 feet is contiguous with Lapel's current town boundaries, according to the city. State law requires annexations to be at least one-eighth contiguous with existing boundaries; Lapel's annexation is only a fraction of that.

The lawsuit asserts a right to challenge Lapel's annexation because 26.44 acres, or about 44.5 percent of the annexed land is located within three miles of Anderson's boundaries.

Anderson officials want the courts to determine whether Lapel exceeded its authority under the Home Rule Act with the May annexation, "despite the fact the annexation did not meet the statutory requirements for contiguity in Indiana’s annexation laws,” City Attorney Ashley Hopper said in a prepared statement.

Reached for comment on Friday, Lapel Town Councilman Clay Parkison said the lawsuit is a waste of taxpayer money that won't succeed in part because the rules concerning "super-voluntary" annexations differ from other types of annexation.

"I hate that there's going to be such a waste of funds that could be used for something else," he said.

Nevertheless, Parkison said he understands Smith's motivation for challenging Lapel's action.

"I think he truly believes in his heart he's doing what he thinks is best for the people of Anderson," Parkison said. "I hope he understands that's what we're doing, too."

Lapel's annexation cut a swath through a 17 square mile area Smith wanted to annex as part of Anderson Fast Forward, a plan he unveiled in February to stabilize the city's population and property tax base and create an economic development corridor by capturing unincorporated frontage along I-69 to the Madison/Hamilton County line.

The idea was to take advantage of the commercial, industrial and residential growth moving north along the interstate from Indianapolis, Fishers and Noblesville.

Opposition to the plan developed swiftly and was vocal. Confronted with an angry crowd of people from both Anderson and the Lapel and Pendleton areas, the Anderson City Council tabled the plan to gather more information and public comments. Criticism of the plan at public meetings in Lapel was equally scathing.

In mid-March the City Council rejected the plan. Smith tried to resurrect a slightly smaller version of the so-called southwest annexation, in June, but only two members of the council -- Anthony Bibbs, D-At Large, and Russ Willis, R-District 1 -- showed up for a special meeting and the effort failed for lack of a quorum.

In its lawsuit, the city claims that "Anderson is the only second class city in Madison County and the only municipality that can effectively manage the coordinated economic development opportunities," along the I-69 corridor.

"Anderson has an interest in this area for the future of not only Anderson, but also Madison County and the surrounding region," the lawsuit reads. "Lapel's unlawful annexation essentially acts as a barrier that blocks Anderson from reaching I-69 at that location and continuing the economic development and growth that Anderson has already initiated."

Smith said the lawsuit is focused on the next 50 years of economic growth and vitality of Anderson and Madison County.

"As we learned from the annexation effort that Anderson undertook in 1957, had we not stretched to the south, Anderson today would not have any interstate presence," Smith said.

No hearing date has yet been set for the case.

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