Raleigh council debates city growth in outer suburbs

ccampbell@newsobserver.comJuly 5, 2013 

— City leaders have historically been eager to extend Raleigh’s boundaries and add new neighborhoods and taxpayers, but a vote Tuesday showed some city councilmen are concerned that outer suburb annexations might not be a solid investment.

Councilmen Russ Stephenson and Thomas Crowder voted against a routine satellite annexation, arguing that providing city services to a far-flung neighborhood might not be worth the cost.

“We should know what we’re doing in terms of someone committing to repair and maintenance costs,” Stephenson said.

Homebuilding firm D.R. Horton wants to add 104 acres at its Bryson Village subdivision into the city limits. An earlier phase of the neighborhood has already been annexed into Raleigh for utilities, trash collection and emergency services. But Bryson Village – off Buffaloe Road just outside Interstate 540 – forms an island in rural Wake, a mile or so from the nearest city neighborhood.

Stephenson worries low-density residential development so far out could become expensive in the long run, as utility pipelines age and require costly replacements. He noted that a speaker at a recent city planning convention called such development a “Ponzi scheme.”

“When are we going to be able to put a price tag on the long-term cost of continuing to develop low-density development?” Stephenson asked.

But Deputy Planning Director Ken Bowers told Stephenson he heard the same presentation and didn’t agree with the Ponzi comparison. Bowers said that growth models still show more development around Raleigh’s current boundaries. That makes the satellite annexations financially feasible for the city. “Do we see other developments moving in and using the same pipes?” he said, referring to the planning department’s criteria for extending city services.

Crowder, however, pointed out that annexations aren’t a simple matter of extending utility pipelines. Police officers and garbage crews must drive through miles of unincorporated Wake County to serve the isolated neighborhoods. “That’s a great expense when you have a major void between (the locations),” he said.

Still, six other council members voted to approve the Bryson Village annexation. But as city leaders encourage more high-density development in Raleigh’s core, traditional suburban growth is likely to get more scrutiny in the future.

Campbell: 919-829-4802 or twitter.com/RaleighReporter

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