The town of Woodfin backed away from a massive proposed annexation when the Board of Aldermen voted unanimously on Sept. 15 to indefinitely suspend the expansion.
The move came after months of controversy, during which residents of the affected area — a 3.5-square-mile slice of Erwin Hills and Leicester — came out in force to meetings, arguing that they would suffer increased taxation but receive no benefits if annexed.
The annexation would have increased Woodfin’s population by half and its area by 36 percent. Woodfin has, in recent years, embarked on ambitious expansion.
The town’s ostensible reason for attempting to annex the area was to insure that the city of Asheville didn’t and thus to preserve the West Buncombe Fire District. Asheville officials, however, have said that they have no intention of annexing the area.
Woodfin is currently working out an annexation agreement with Asheville that will determine how the two municipalities handle future annexations of neighboring unincorporated areas of Buncombe County, town officials emphasized. Meanwhile, a state deadline, which would require the board of aldermen to vote for the annexation or abandon it, was looming.
“The agreement would insure the preservation of the West Buncombe Fire District,” says Town Administrator Jason Young. “The feeling of the board was that with the deadline coming up in October—we’d have to act on the annexation or start the process all over again— this was the right way to go.”
He notes that “to the best of my understanding,” the public backlash the board encountered was not a factor in the decision.
Young tells Xpress that the town is hoping to get a “multi-year agreement” with Asheville that will “essentially preserve the status quo” and keep the fire district intact.
Young notes that Woodfin could pursue annexation again if the deal falls through “though we’d have to start the process over.”
But annexation opponents are “moderately celebrating,” says StopWoodfin.org co-founder Betty Jackson.
“I think a lot of things contributed to this, but I don’t believe [Woodfin Mayor] Jerry VeHaun when he says that the backlash wasn’t one of them,” she tells Xpress.
As many as 400 angry residents showed up at one meeting, and Jackson believes that their “voices provided a lot of bark, and the lawyer we hired provided a lot of bite.”
In the long run, she says, the group will declare victory “when the state’s annexation laws are changed so something like this cannot happen. The fact that North Carolina allows involuntary annexation is just wrong.”
In the near term, the group is planning to meet in coming weeks to decide its next course of action.
— David Forbes, staff writer