Editorial: Annexation overrides local control

Florida should retain zoning rights over proposed Native American museum property
Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock talks about the proposed Tribes Hill Heritage Center.
Marjorie Dancing Wind Heacock talks about the proposed Tribes Hill Heritage Center.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

There’s a solution for every developer who wants to build a project on land that isn’t zoned for it.

Ask a neighboring municipality if they’ll let you build whatever you want. Then ask them to annex the property.

Everybody wins — except the people of the town who lose the land, its value and their ability to control its use.

That’s basically what the whole controversy is over a developer’s plan to build a $42 million Tribes Hill Heritage Center on 55 acres in the town of Florida adjacent to the city of Amsterdam.

The Native American-themed museum would include an educational center,  restaurant, area for Native American activities, gardens and a culinary incubator.

The problem for developers is that the land they want in Florida is zoned for industrial business park. But their project would require a designation of mixed-use commercial zone.

So the developer is asking the city of Amsterdam to annex the property to allow the project to go forward. That would include being able to hook into Amsterdam’s infrastructure.

For Florida, changing the zoning designation for the project could constitute “spot-zoning.”

That’s where a town arbitrarily goes against its comprehensive plan and approves a zoning change to benefit a developer, to the detriment of neighbors. Spot-zoning is illegal because it invites favoritism and corruption.

Allowing Amsterdam to annex the property in the town of Florida for this project essentially accomplishes the same thing as illegal spot-zoning.

The developers argue their  project would provide jobs and economic development. But the town may have its own reasons for opposing the project. 

First, it would remove the land from development as a business park. Second, the project — billed as a tourist destination — will bring issues related to traffic, noise and other development impacts.

It should be up to the town to decide its willingness to accept those impacts and to decide how to mitigate them.

What’s the point of having borders and zoning and master plans anyway, if they all can be overridden by an annexation process intended to take local land-use control from one community and grant it to another?

Maybe this project would indeed benefit the town of Florida. But that decision should be left up to Florida’s residents and its elected officials.

Florida officials are planning a review of their comprehensive master plan.

Rather than push for annexation, developers of the museum should participate in the master plan review and convince community residents of the long-term benefits of a zoning change.

Annexation should be reserved for special circumstances that go beyond the simple desires of a single developer.

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