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Annexation hearing set for Tuesday

Brookhaven officials hope a Tuesday chancery court hearing willbe the first step on a path toward city expansion, but someresidents in the proposed annexation area would like to not beincluded in those plans.

The city’s annexation hearing is scheduled for 9 a.m. in theLincoln County Chancery Courtroom. The annexation issue is thefirst item on the court docket, said City Attorney Joe Fernald.

“There are a number of issues that have to be addressed orhandled,” Fernald said about how the hearing would proceed.

The city has been working with attorney Jerry Mills, aspecialist in the annexation field, and consultant Mike Slaughteron its city expansion plans. The city is asking the court to allowthe annexation of more than 16.5 square miles in the county.

According to demographic data about the annexation, theexpansion would increase the city’s land area from 7.3 square milesto 23.9 square miles.

In terms of population, the total would rise from the current9,861 to 13,198. In racial breakdown, the city is currently 47.6percent white and 51.4 black; if annexation is approved, thepercentages would be 48.7 percent white and 50.2 percent black.

Included in the proposed annexation area is LakewoodVillage.

Gary Wilson, president of the Lakewood Village HomeownersAssociation, is among those opposed to the city’s plans. He said hehad spoken with Lakewood Village residents and others in theproposed annexation area, but he did not know how many would attendTuesday’s hearing.

Based on 12 criteria the city must use to show why theannexation is reasonable, Wilson has been preparing a response tothe city’s evidence. He said the association had considered hiringan attorney, but had determined it was too expensive.

One of the 12 “indicia of reasonableness” is naturalbarriers.

Wilson believes wetlands and swampy areas around LakewoodVillage constitute a natural barrier to justify it not beingannexed. He said he had spoken with Environmental Protection Agencyand Corps of Engineers officials about requirements that would haveto be done to develop area around Lakewood Village.

Wilson said he plans to present that and other evidence to JudgeEd Patten.

“If he listens to what I present, it’s a pretty good case for usnot needing to be annexed,” Wilson said.

Fernald said objections would delay annexation activity.

“The process will not be held that day. It will have to becontinued,” Fernald said.

Fernald said there would be a discovery period for each side toreview the other’s evidence. A new trial date would depend onwhenever the judge could hear the case.

Fernald also mentioned the possibility of the judge being askedto recuse himself. A recusal would mean another judge would have tobe appointed to hear the case.

“I don’t know what the judge’s position will be,” Fernaldsaid.

Fernald said the annexation case will be “no cake walk” foreither side.

“The judge will hold everyone to the same standards of evidenceand the same standards of proof,” Fernald said.

Fernald believes the city will be able to adequately address the12 indicia and provide city services to newly-annexed area withinthe accepted time frame.

“We’ve got to deliver in five years,” Fernald said. “We’re at apoint we can deliver in five years.”

Fernald said the city has been receiving questions about theannexation in writing and, to the extent it’s able, been respondingto those inquiries.

The city has not been required to hold a public hearing on theannexation. Fernald said the city is not doing an “end-run” in itsefforts to annex.

“We welcome a full and fair exchange of ideas within ourjudicial system,” Fernald said.