RCDA Latest Organization to Choose Annexation
The Elkins council last night approved the annexation of several dozen acres of Randolph County Development Authority property into the city’s corporate limits. The annexation will not become final until the Randolph County Commission takes required action to acknowledge the change.
This annexation was requested by the RCDA after it purchased land straddling the city boundary from the International Order of Odd Fellows last fall. The tract in question, about 70 acres, lies across the road from the old IOOF lodge and adjacent to the Elkins Industrial Park.
The RCDA, which plans to use the property to expand the industrial park, requested annexation to ensure consistency and predictability for all park tenants, present and future.
“Without this annexation, part of the new property would have been inside the city and part would have been outside,” says Robbie Morris, the RCDA’s executive director. “We felt it would be best to develop our industrial park completely within the corporate limits so that the entire park operates under the same set of rules and laws.”
By seeking annexation for this property, RCDA is helping Elkins avoid increased development just outside of its boundaries, which can cause headaches and heartburn for a city’s residents and business owners.
“When you have too many businesses or residential neighborhoods springing up just outside of a city, you get all of the same problems that can happen inside a city but with fewer resources that can be used to help,” says Jessica Sutton, the Elkins city clerk. “These ‘fringe’ developments can increase traffic congestion inside city limits but don’t contribute to the tax base necessary to improve and expand our streets, for example.”
Another problem facing businesses and residences located just outside city limits is the lack of planning and zoning laws in unincorporated parts of Randolph County.
“Right now, in Randolph County, there are no laws requiring separation between residences and businesses and virtually no restrictions on what kind of business a property owner can put in,” says Sutton. “This can lead to conflicts between neighboring property owners, unpredictability regarding property values, and decreased customer traffic to businesses that find themselves next to less appealing properties.”
By contrast, properties inside Elkins city limits—such as the RCDA’s newly annexed property—are regulated by city zoning laws, which are currently being updated to better support economic development and protect neighborhood character. The RCDA property will also be under the 24-hour protection of the Elkins Police Department even as it remains inside the jurisdiction of the Randolph County Sheriff’s Office and the West Virginia State police. EPD recently expanded its force to 15 full-time officers and is looking to add more.
The RCDA sought this annexation by petition, which is when a property’s owner voluntarily requests to bring that property into the city’s corporate limits. In addition to a letter signed by the property owner or owner’s agent requesting annexation, a surveyor’s plat and a legal description of the property must also be submitted to the city clerk’s office. After city council approves the annexation via ordinance, the Randolph County Commission must enter an order ceding the annexed property to the city.
Other businesses and organizations that have sought voluntary annexation to Elkins in recent years include the Elkins Rehabilitation and Care Center, Elkins High School, Midland Elementary School, North Elementary School, Third Ward Elementary School, Allegheny Power, Randolph County Housing Authority, Davis Trust Company, Save-a-Lot, Family Dollar, and Davis Health Systems DirectCare.
Annexation by petition has also been used several times in the last decade by another area organization, Woodlands Development Group, a nonprofit community development organization. Woodlands recently petitioned for annexation of its Northview Apartments complex and the site of its planned Firefly Commons project, both near Wilson Lane.
“We always consider annexation with any project located close enough to a city’s boundary,” says Dave Clark, the organization’s executive director. “For one thing, when our projects are located inside a city, it gives our funders and lenders an added sense of comfort knowing there is that extra level of regulation, protection, and support. And in our experience, Elkins has been a very responsive partner on everything from infrastructure to snow removal.”
In addition to these practical considerations, Clark sees annexation as a matter of principle.
“Elkins is the commercial hub of this region, and most of the commerce that goes on both inside and outside of the city is a direct result of the city being where it is,” he explains. “At Woodlands, we see it as something of an ethical obligation to get our projects inside the city boundary and do our small part to help the city we all benefit from continue to grow and flourish.”
Morris says that, although this is the first time that the RCDA has sought to annex property into Elkins, the organization is open to more annexations when appropriate.
“We support the growth of the city of Elkins,” says Morris. “When you look at the strongest cities within West Virginia, they all have their major commercial centers incorporated into their corporate limits.”
According to Clark, annexation and the benefits it brings to Elkins are key to the city’s ongoing success.
“The old proverb says that, if you want to go fast, go alone, but if you want to go far, go together,” he says. “That absolutely describes what annexation can do for a city like this one. The more businesses and commercial properties that come into Elkins, the better it is for everyone.”