Q: I've been reading and hearing about annexation lately. What is it, exactly?
A: Annexation is a legal process by which some property located in an unincorporated area of a township may become part of a neighboring city or village. The property must be “contiguous to” (next to and touching) the existing city or village boundary lines to qualify for annexation.
Q: Why would anyone want his or her property to become part of a city or village?
A: Property owners may seek services that a city or village provides, such as water and sewer service, full-time police and fire protection, more favorable zoning or development practices, a liquor license not available in a township, or even a different cable TV company.
Q: The residents of our unincorporated township are considering annexing our properties to a nearby village. How can we do this?
A: The law now provides several ways to expedite the annexation of property in a township to a city or village, as long as all of the property owners in the township agree to be annexed. These methods include the following:
(1) All the owners of property to be annexed file a petition with the commissioners of the county in which the property is located. The property owners also work with the governing bodies of the township where the property is located and of the city or village to which the property will be annexed. The township and the city or village agree, in writing, that the specific property will be annexed to the city or village. This agreement may establish the terms of the annexation, spell out what services will be provided and by whom (the township or the city/village), identify what payments the city or village may make to the township (or vice versa), and may include agreements with owners or developers, etc.
(2) Property owners with 500 acres or less of property may file a petition to annex to a neighboring city or village, providing that at least five percent of the property’s perimeter is contiguous to the city or village and there is no “island” of property left unannexed. The city or village must pass a resolution stating what services it will provide to the territory to be annexed, and approximately when they will be provided.
(3) The owner(s) of property that is a part of a large (non-residential) economic development project may file a petition seeking annexation. The project must involve more than $10,000,000 of private investment, including improvements to the land, infrastructure, and installation of fixtures and equipment, and it must generate more than $1,000,000 in annual payroll.
Q: If most, but not all, of the owners of an unincorporated township want to be annexed to a nearby village, can any of the property be annexed?
A: A “majority owner” provision allows property to be annexed when only a majority of the property owners agree. Among other requirements, the property must not be “unreasonably” large, and the benefits to the annexed territory and the surrounding area (taken as a whole) must outweigh any detriment to the annexed territory and the surrounding area (taken as a whole). (The “surrounding area” includes the territory of the unincorporated area of any township located half a mile or less from the property to be annexed.)
Q: Are there any downsides to annexation?
A: Township governments often oppose annexations, based on concern that annexation will hurt the township’s own economic growth or its continued integrity as a governmental unit. While it is relatively simple to annex property to a village/city, it is very difficult to remove annexed land from a city/village. Approval of city council is required before land can be de-annexed. Rarely have Ohio city or village councils allowed annexed land to leave city or village boundaries.
Law You Can Use is a weekly consumer legal information column provided by the Ohio State Bar Association (OSBA). This article was originally prepared by Sheila Nolan Gartland, an attorney with the Columbus office of Vorys, Sater, Seymour and Pease LLP. It was updated by Akron attorney Al Schrader, who represents local Ohio governments on annexation, JEDDs and similar legal matters.