Incorporation vs. Annexation
There are four pathways to annexation:
1. Voluntary Annexation which is subject to the County Charter found here as well as F.S. 171; and,
2. Involuntary Annexation which is governed by Florida Statute 171 found here;
3. Interlocal Agreement between municipality and County;
4. Special Act of the State Legislature.
Below, we address the two methods set out by Statute.
Under Voluntary Annexation, we have an additional layer of protection under the County Comprehensive Plan and the Acreage Neighborhood Overlay area requiring a super majority vote of the Board of County Commissioners in favor of annexation, as well as the majority vote of registered voters in a referendum of all within the overlay area. There are many areas outside this overlay that are proposed to be in the Village of Loxahatchee. Areas not protected, as a recognized neighborhood under the Comprehensive Plan, would not require a super majority vote of the Board of County Commissioners nor would it require a referendum of everyone in the area. This means there are properties in our area that are subject to voluntary annexation, that could substantively change our area, without our community having a vote.
The voluntary annexation process for the County is set out in this sheet https://discover.pbcgov.org/pzb/planning/PDF/Annexation/Voluntary_Annexation_Process.pdf
Here the listing of past annexations in the County by year. Note that where you see a referendum listed, this is where involuntary annexation took place. https://discover.pbcgov.org/pzb/planning/pages/annexation.aspx
This is the link to the County’s Charter regarding annexation.
Under Involuntary Annexation, it would require a referendum of the registered voters of the land area proposed to be annexed or, if 70% of the proposed annexation area is owned by absentee landowners and no registered voters on the property, the majority of the landowners would have to be in favor of being annexed. This is the method that has been used by many developers buying up properties, having the majority of the area and forcing annexation on property owners that are not in favor.
If we don’t incorporate, how real is the threat of areas in our community being annexed?
Our community abuts 6 different municipalities. They are Palm Beach Gardens, West Palm Beach, Royal Palm Beach, Loxahatchee Groves, Westlake and Wellington. Each of those municipalities, with the exception of Westlake, are pretty much built out. One shouldn’t assume that there is not a desire for any of these municipalities to annex certain areas or that the majority of residents, proposed to be annexed, would oppose if there were a referendum. There are many reasons the municipalities and developers would want to annex portions of our area, particularly for higher density housing, roads, water and commercial development.
The entire community does NOT have to be annexed at once; they can take us apart a unit at a time under F.S. 171 – Involuntary Annexation. Municipalities can offer incentives to entice residents to vote in favor of annexation. A prime example is the annexation of Bayhill Estates and Rustic Lakes by Palm Beach Gardens. While annexation was initiated by the Bayhill HOA with the promise of a traffic light, the owners in Rustic Lakes were not in favor of being annexed and were outvoted by the Bayhill residents. Rustic Lakes’ lower density (just like us) made them very vulnerable to this “voluntary” annexation. Broward County also has multiple examples of unincorporated areas who were forced to choose WHICH municipality they wanted to be in—not IF they wanted to be annexed, or to incorporate into their own municipality. Look to Davie, Sunrise, Sunshine Ranches, and West Hollywood as examples of how the county forced annexation of communities.
WHAT’S THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN INCORPORATION OR ANNEXATION?
Primarily, the difference between incorporation and annexation, is the scrutiny that must be done for incorporation. A feasibility study has to be done as part of the proposed incorporation to evaluate if it would be feasible to be a municipality. The Charter states the purpose, the powers, set the boundaries and the feasibility study evaluates the data based on what is proposed. The boundaries must only include unincorporated areas. The feasibility study has to be completed according to Florida Statute 165. A Local Bill has to be approved by our local delegation before being filed in Tallahassee. Then it must go through the State legislative process, which includes many State Departments and committee reviews of the feasibility study and proposed Charter, two readings and votes on the State House floor and then a vote of the State Senate. If passed by the legislature, the Governor would have the final approval of the Bill. If the Governor approves the Bill, a referendum is required. Registered voters within the proposed boundaries vote on the Referendum. People that live in our community would be elected to the Village Council. The rules and regulations, created by our elected representatives, should be specific to protecting and preserving our rural agricultural equestrian character as directed by the Charter.
Annexation is when an already existing municipality proposes or is asked to bring an unincorporated area, abutting their municipality, within their boundaries. It has to be done pursuant to Florida Statute 171. If it is a voluntary annexation, it must also comply with Palm Beach County’s Charter provisions on voluntary annexation. There is no scrutiny by the State. No requirement for it to be feasible and an unlikely chance that the character or desires of our area will be adopted into the municipality’s comprehensive plan or code.
If we incorporate and don’t like it, how easy is it to undo?
A municipality can dissolve under F.S. 165.061. A petition would be required by residents of the municipality. The Statute states:
“(3) The dissolution of a municipality must meet the following conditions:
(a) The municipality to be dissolved must not be substantially surrounded by other municipalities.
(b) The county or another municipality must be demonstrably able to provide necessary services to the municipal area proposed for dissolution.
(c) An equitable arrangement must be made in relation to bonded indebtedness and vested rights of employees of the municipality to be dissolved.”
If incorporation comes to a vote, whatever the outcome is, can we honor the results for at least 10 years or so?
This would be governed by Florida Statute 165 and it states if the referendum failed, it would be prohibited from attempting again for another two years.