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De-Annexation of Property from a City – How Does That Happen?

September 12, 2014  by  Bob Meinig
Category:  Annexation

Every once in a while we get asked how property may be “de-annexed” – removed from city boundaries. Whenever I’m asked this question, I say in my response that it rarely occurs. It’s a lot easier in Washington State for property to get annexed to a city than it is for the opposite to occur. This blog discusses why that is the case.

The main reason it’s rare for property to be de-annexed from a city is the high electoral hurdle that is established by the process as set out in chapter 35.16 RCW for first and second class cities and for towns and in chapter 35A.16 RCW for code cities. That process, with one exception, requires an election in which all city voters get to vote on the proposition to de-annex property and 60 percent of those voting must vote in favor of the proposition. (In an annexation election, only those voters in the area proposed for annexation get to vote, and 60 percent approval is required only to also assume indebtedness.) The one exception is the process in RCW 35A.16.080 to exclude agricultural land from a code city, a process that does not require an election, only city council approval.

Another reason de-annexation is rare is the process to get a de-annexation proposition on the ballot. To do that, either the city council has to pass a resolution to call for an election on the proposition or the property owner(s) wanting to de-annex must submit a petition calling for an election that must be signed by voters equal in number to no less than 10 percent of the number of votes cast city-wide in the last general municipal election. (Those are held in November of odd-numbered years.) I’m not sure why a city council would want to pass a resolution to have an election on whether to de-annex property, as elections cost money and the city would foot the bill for a de-annexation election.

So, that’s basically the de-annexation process: either a petition must be submitted to the city signed by the requisite number of voters or the city council must pass a resolution calling for an election, followed by a city-wide election in which a super-majority of city voters must approve the de-annexation. If there’s a boundary review board in the county, the proposed de-annexation is subject to potential review by that board.

There is also a process, set out in RCW 35.10.217-.265, by which property may be de-annexed from one city and annexed to an adjacent (contiguous) city, if both city councils approve. In fact, that process can be used to have one city annex an entire, adjacent city. (Not sure if that’s ever occurred.) That process can be initiated by a voter petition, by a property owner petition (though not for annexation of the entire city), or by city council resolution. Depending on how it is initiated, the annexation of all or part of an adjacent city will proceed like an election method annexation, a petition method annexation, or through resolutions passed by the councils of both cities (subject to property owner protest by petition).

Another procedure meriting mention here is that in RCW 35.13.340 by which a piece of property (a lot) that is split by a city boundary can either be completely included within the city or completely excluded.  This procedure is available when the lot is split between a city and the unincorporated county as well as when the lot is split between two cities. In the latter situation, both cities must agree on the boundary adjustment, while in the former, county approval is not required, though it should, of course, be sought. If county approval is not obtained and the county has a boundary review board, the boundary adjustment is potentially subject to review by the board.

To my thinking, it’s good that the basic process to de-annex property sets a high hurdle, especially in these times of often intense political emotions. Cities need to be able to count on stable boundaries.  The de-annexation process, with its high hurdle, helps to keep them stable.

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 Bob Meinig

Bob wrote extensively on the state Open Public Meetings Act, municipal incorporation and annexation, and a wide variety of other legal topics. He is now retired.



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