« Ind. Decisions - Court of Appeals issues 4 today (and 6 NFP) | Main | Ind. Decisions - Tippecanoe Court upholds ordinance banning smoking »

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Ind. Decisions - "Ruling supports Carmel annexation" [Updated]

Bill Ruthhart of the Indianapolis Star reports this afternoon on the Supreme Court decision earlier today in the case of City of Carmel, Indiana v. Certain Southwest Clay Township Annexation Territory Landowners (see ILB entry here - 3rd case). Some quotes:

In an opinion released this afternoon, the Indiana Supreme Court has ruled Carmel should be allowed to annex southwest Clay Township.

The 5-0 opinion from the state's highest court overrules a Hamilton County judge's 2006 ruling that Carmel could not annex some of the state's wealthiest neighborhoods.

In question was a 2005 agreement between the city and a group called No Ordinance for Annexation, or NOAX.

NOAX had collected petitions against Carmel's attempt to annex the 8.3-square-mile area, roughly located west of U.S. 31, north of 96th Street, east of the Boone County line and south of 116th Street.

As required by state law, NOAX collected petitions against annexation from more than 65 percent of homeowners in the area. NOAX then entered negotiations with the city and Mayor Jim Brainard. * * *

NOAX dropped its court challenge to the annexation after the deal, but a second group, the Southwest Clay Community Association, picked up the fight. That association argued NOAX didn't have the authority to strike a deal on behalf of all homeowners.

In the Hamilton County court, Judge William Hughes, agreed, throwing out the agreement.

Today, the Indiana Supreme Court overruled that opinion, granting Carmel the right to annex southwest Clay under the deal with NOAX.

For background, start with this March 8, 2007 ILB entry.

[Updated 6/28/07] This morning Bil Ruthhart of the story has long and comprehensive coverage of yesterday's opinion, including these quotes:

The court's 5-0 ruling eventually will affect the pocketbooks of some of Indiana's wealthiest residents while increasing the tax revenues of one of the state's most affluent cities.

But interest in the annexation case extended far beyond Carmel, as communities from South Bend to Jeffersonville looked to a Supreme Court ruling as guidance on how to conduct future annexations. The Carmel decision marked the first time the state's highest court has ruled on current annexation law.

"Everyone -- cities and towns all over Indiana -- have been waiting for the Supreme Court to interpret this annexation statute," Carmel Mayor Jim Brainard said. "For that reason, this is a landmark case."

More from the story:
Fishers Town Council President Scott Faultless said the decision will be key in whether his town moves forward with plans to annex more than 2,000 properties in the wealthy waterfront community of Geist. Wednesday's ruling also likely will affect Carmel's annexation of Home Place, a case pending before the Indiana Court of Appeals.

But the most immediate effect will be felt in southwest Clay Township, where the nearly 10,000 residents who call some of Indiana's most exclusive neighborhoods home will soon become part of Carmel.

Here is the heart of the decision:
"The organization leading the remonstrance negotiated favorable terms with the city and decided to settle," Shepard wrote in the opinion. "In a referendum among landowners, a majority voted in favor of settling. We conclude they were entitled to do so, and reverse the trial court's judgment which effectively held otherwise."

Michael Shaver, an annexation consultant who has done work for Carmel and several other cities and towns across the state, said the Supreme Court's ruling effectively sets the NOAX deal as an example for other communities and property owners to follow.

"I really think this is not just a victory for Carmel, but a victory for democracy," Shaver said. "Carmel went to a lot of trouble to deal with the NOAX folks in an honest way, came up with an offer that was substantially better and then held a referendum to make sure people agreed with it.

"That was the center of the Supreme Court's decision: When you go to that kind of effort, a judge just can't ignore it."

The ruling makes Carmel's deal with NOAX effective this fall. Since that agreement calls for a three-year annexation delay, southwest Clay residents would not officially become part of Carmel until 2010.

Even then, they won't pay the full municipal tax rate because of the tax-break deal NOAX negotiated. Homeowners wouldn't pay the full municipal rate until 2013.

Rebecca Berfanger wrote late yesterday in the Indianapolis Business Journal:
“The decision confirms that the Supreme Court is committed to the idea of reinforcing a legislative system that empowers municipalities to annex land if the conditions of the statute are met,” [Bryan Babb, an attorney who represents Carmel] said. “Hiring an expert to poke holes in a city’s fiscal plan isn’t enough to stop an annexation that is done properly.”

The opinion also will help parties in annexation cases around the state, including those who face similar issues and who filed amici briefs on this case, Babb said, because “this opinion—for the first time ever—interprets the difference between signing a remonstrance and opposing an annexation. In this case, the trial court equated the two.”

“This opinion reinforces what the court has been saying for years now, that judges shouldn’t micromanage annexations,” Babb added. “There are important public-policy benefits from allowing annexations to go forward when they are done under proper conditions. In almost every annexation, there will be a vocal minority which will not want to be annexed, but that shouldn’t be enough to stop the annexation when done properly.”

Posted by Marcia Oddi on June 27, 2007 04:26 PM
Posted to Ind. Sup.Ct. Decisions