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Annexing Non-Contiguous Territory Outside City or Town Limits

Annexing Non-Contiguous Territory Outside City or Town Limits

There are a number of methods that can be used to annex territory to a city or town if the area to be annexed is contiguous to the entity’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 a city or town? This blog will look at the Municipal Purpose Method of annexation — the sole annexation method available for annexing non-contiguous area to a city or town.

An Overview

There may be instances when a city or town 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 local government, the location does not lie under its 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 or town must have jurisdiction over the area, and jurisdiction can only be obtained if that area becomes part of the city or town.

When Annexation Is Not Possible

While it may be a good policy to annex the non-contiguous area that a city owns outside of its jurisdiction, when is this even a possibility?

The first question to ask is whether the non-contiguous area is within the city’s urban growth area (UGA). If a city is subject to the Growth Management Act, chapter 36.70A RCW, it is prohibited from annexing any territory outside its 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 or town is covered by growth management, it may not annex territory outside its UGA — regardless of whether it is land owned by the city or town. On the other hand, if growth management does not apply, annexation would be possible if the annexation is for a proposed municipal purpose.

When Annexation Is Possible

If the growth management hurdle can be cleared, what process can the city or town use to annex the area? Again, the only method available to annex non-contiguous territory is the Municipal Purpose Method. This method of annexation is a streamlined process that requires adoption of an ordinance by a majority of the jurisdiction’s governing body, and it does not require a petition or public hearing on the annexation.

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.

When Is Annexation Subject to Review?

Boundary review board (BRB) review may be invoked for annexation of areas non-contiguous to the city or town. A notice of intention must be filed with a BRB  and review follows once a triggering event occurs, such as those outlined in RCW 36.93.100.

However, if the area is both owned by and contiguous to the city or town, the annexation is exempt from BRB review (see RCW 36.93.090(1)). Note that not all counties have BRBs.

Examples and Resources

MRSC’s Sample Document Library includes examples of annexation ordinances for jurisdictions that used the municipal purposes method. For more information on annexation, see our online publication, Annexation by Washington Cities and Towns, and our webpage, Annexation Methods by Cities and Towns

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.

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MRSC Insight reflects the best writing of MRSC staff on timeless topics that impact staff and elected officials in Washington cities, counties, and special purpose districts.