The opinion addresses two issues, according to Bryan Babb, an attorney who represents Carmel: that municipalities wanting to annex property can settle with landowners, and that there is a difference between initiating a remonstrance and opposing an annexation.
On June 21, 2004, Carmel introduced ordinance C263 and a fiscal plan to annex territory in southwest Clay Township between 96th and 116th streets and roughly west of U.S. 31 to the Boone County line. The annexation represented approximately 3,400 parcels. Landowners were notified on July 2, 2004, and a notice was published in the Noblesville Ledger two weeks later. The Carmel City Council passed the ordinance on Nov. 24, 2004, and a notice was published two days later.
On Feb. 24, 2005, NOAX filed a remonstrance after obtaining signatures from 65 percent of affected landowners, the required amount. This led to discussions with the city, and ultimately a settlement agreement on Sept. 6, 2005. Carmel incorporated the terms of the settlement into ordinance C263A. The council adopted the settlement agreements on Oct. 7, 2005. NOAX conducted a referendum from Sept. 12 to Dec. 1, 2005, and landowners voted in favor of the settlement 708 to 515.
The remonstrance was certified in December 2005. A hearing was held a few months later to determine whether the annexation could go forward. NOAX sided with Carmel during the hearing, but a few property owners as individuals contested the annexation. The trial court found the original fiscal plan too vague and did not allow the annexation to go forward.
However, the Indiana Supreme Court opinion considers the conditions that must be met and what remonstrators must prove to determine whether an annexation can go forward. The court found that Carmel met these conditions but that the remonstrators who did not agree with the settlement did not meet their requirements, including having an insufficient percentage of landowners who continued to oppose the annexation.
"The decision confirms that the Supreme Court is committed to the idea of reinforcing a legislative system that empowers municipalities to annex land if the conditions of the statute are met," Babb said. "Hiring an expert to poke holes in a city's fiscal plan isn't enough to stop an annexation that is done properly."
The opinion also will help parties in annexation cases around the state, including those who face similar issues and who filed amici briefs on this case, Babb said, because "this opinion-for the first time ever-interprets the difference between signing a remonstrance and opposing an annexation. In this case, the trial court equated the two."
"This opinion reinforces what the court has been saying for years now, that judges shouldn't micromanage annexations," Babb added. "There are important public-policy benefits from allowing annexations to go forward when they are done under proper conditions. In almost every annexation, there will be a vocal minority which will not want to be annexed, but that shouldn't be enough to stop the annexation when done properly."