An East Valley lawmaker has introduced a bill to the state Legislature that would make it more difficult for cities and towns to annex unincorporated land, calling the current system "an onslaught against private property rights."
However, opponents said the measure would merely facilitate urban development in county areas that lack the resources to serve property owners’ needs.
House Majority Leader Rep. Eddie Farnsworth, RGilbert, proposes amending Arizona’s annexation law that would require municipalities to get consent from 80 percent of property owners, rather than the current 50 percent plus one.
The bill, also endorsed by Rep. Karen Johnson, R-Mesa, could make it to committee within the next two weeks, Farnsworth said.
Its purpose is to prevent situations in which municipalities "gerrymander and coerce" property owners into annexation, he said, citing a pending effort in Queen Creek to annex 642 acres of Maricopa County land.
"I found it to be unconscionable for these municipalities, in this case Queen Creek, to be doing what they’re doing," Farnsworth said.
However, League of Arizona Cities and Towns executive director Cathy Connolly said the annexation law’s purpose is to make sure people in developed areas receive needed services that only a municipality can provide. "Urbanized areas that need urban type services should be inside cities and towns," Connolly said.
In March, two Maricopa County landowners filed suit claiming Queen Creek used gerrymandering tactics to force them into the town limits. As of Tuesday, Queen Creek still did not have the required signatures to annex.
Queen Creek Town Manager Cynthia Seelhammer said Farnsworth’s proposed amendment would deprive property owners who do want to join the town of key services and building standards.
"In a democracy, doesn’t a majority get to make these kind of decisions?" Seelhammer asked.