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Annexing Territory Outside City Limits


January 24, 2019 by Paul Sullivan
Category: Annexation

Annexing Territory Outside City Limits

There are a number of methods that can be used to annex territory to a city or town (“city”) if the area to be annexed is contiguous to the city’s current boundaries. What happens, though, when the area is not contiguous, such as property owned by the city and held for a municipal purpose outside of town?

An Overview

There may be instances when a city owns property outside its boundaries. For example, a city might own a park, cemetery, public works facility or airport, and though this property is owned by the city, the location is not within the city’s jurisdiction.

Why might this be a problem? The city would likely want its zoning and other regulatory standards to apply to its property and not the zoning or regulatory standards of another jurisdiction. Also, if the property is outside the city’s boundaries, it cannot enforce its laws (e.g. trespass or theft) for a violation that may occur on the property. The county sheriff, of course, can enforce state laws on the property and any charge that is filed can be prosecuted by the county prosecutor, but this may not always happen. To gain assurance that any violations of the law will be prosecuted (should these occur) the city must have jurisdiction over the area, and jurisdiction can only be obtained if that area becomes part of the city.

When Annexation Does Not Apply

So, we’ve established that it may be a good policy to annex the area, but is that even a possibility since the property in question may not be contiguous? In many instances it would not be possible, as an annexation normally requires the area to be contiguous. Further, if a city is subject to the Growth Management Act, chapter 36.70A RCW, it is precluded from annexing any territory outside its urban growth area (UGA). RCW 35.13.005 provides:

No city or town located in a county in which urban growth areas have been designated under RCW 36.70A.110 may annex territory beyond an urban growth area.

A similar limitation applies to code cities (see RCW 35A.14.005). So, if a city is covered by growth management, it may not annex territory outside its UGA, regardless of whether it is contiguous to land owned by the city. On the other hand, if growth management does not apply, annexation would be possible if the annexation is for a municipal purpose.

When Annexation is a Possibility

If the growth management hurdle can be cleared, what process can the city or town use to annex the area?

RCW 35.13.180 provides:

City and town councils of second-class cities and towns may by a majority vote annex new unincorporated territory outside the city or town limits, whether contiguous or noncontiguous for park, cemetery, or other municipal purposes when such territory is owned by the city or town or all of the owners of the real property in the territory give their written consent to the annexation.

The statute for code cities, RCW 35A.14.300, states:

Legislative bodies of code cities may by a majority vote annex territory outside the limits of such city whether contiguous or noncontiguous for any municipal purpose when such territory is owned by the city.

Thus, for code cities, the city must actually own the area to be annexed. In contrast, for first- and second-class cities and towns, the property to be annexed need not be owned by the city but, if owned by others, the owners must consent to the annexation in writing. If those conditions are met, the annexation can be approved by majority vote of the city council, subject to possible review by a boundary review board.

Is the annexation subject to review by a boundary review board? In RCW 36.93.090(1) the annexation is not subject to review if the area is both owned by and contiguous to the city for first- and second-class cities and in towns. For a code city, RCW 36.93.090(1) does not require a review by the boundary review board or the county annexation review board if the area to be annexed is contiguous to the city.

If the steps and conditions discussed above are met, the city may annex the territory. 

Questions? Comments?

MRSC maintains webpages on Annexation and Annexation Methods for more information on either topic.

If you have a question about this blog post or any other topic, please use our Ask MRSC form or call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772. If you have comments about this blog post or other topics you would like me to write about, please email me at psullivan@mrsc.org.


MRSC is a private nonprofit organization serving local governments in Washington State. Eligible government agencies in Washington State may use our free, one-on-one Ask MRSC service to get answers to legal, policy, or financial questions.

About Paul Sullivan

Paul has worked with local governments since 1974 and has authored MRSC publications on local elections, ordinances, and general local government operations. He also provides training on the Open Public Meetings Act.

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