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Orchid puts hold on annexation of Marsh Island

(Week of November 18, 2010)

Orchid residents showed up en mass Monday to tell their new Town Council that they wanted more information – and to be heard – on the possible annexation of Marsh Island.

The residents got their way, with the Council voting 3-2 vote to put the annexation on ice indefinitely.

Nearly 200 residents crowded into the Golf Clubhouse Dining Room of the Orchid Island Golf & Beach Club for the nearly four-hour meeting -- about 100 times the normal number of spectators at Town Council meetings.

Of the dozens who spoke, some passionately, most had not made up their minds about whether expanding the Town’s borders to encompass the 40 acres and 32 homes and homesites of Marsh Island was a good or bad idea.

Instead, they were angered by what many saw as attempts to rush through the decision without fully informing, let alone consulting, the residents of the Town.

After the steady drumbeat of residents urging the Town Council to wait, to get more financial data, to do more analysis and to get a legal opinion, Vice Mayor Francis “Bud” Oatway made a motion to postpone the decision indefinitely, mentioning that January might be a good time to pick it back up.

Oatway said that, prior to the meeting, he had found no “cons” to the annexation, but the angst expressed by his neighbors was troubling.

“One big con is there are a lot of unhappy people here,” Oatway said. “If there are a lot of unhappy people, why should we do something that will keep them unhappy? The pros are really very limited.”

Councilman Paul Johnson, who has been the most vocal opponent of the annexation process and was returned to the council by an overwhelming vote on Nov. 2, seconded the motion.

Newly elected Councilman Harris Webber called the question and voted with Johnson and Oatway.

The 100 or so people who were still left past the lunchtime exodus -- with the exception of a handful in favor of charging forward -- cheered and applauded the public’s ability to halt, or at least delay, a decision that could change the destiny of Orchid for better or for worse.

Many residents brought up the need to maintain unity in such a close-knit community.

Some even said the dissention caused by the annexation issue could result in lower property values.

Resident Peggy Marino also questioned the legal precedent being set for annexation and whether or not other neighboring enclaves could sue to be annexed into Orchid.

A long line of residents complained about the process by which the pre-annexation work was embarked upon, that meetings were held in July and September when 80 percent of Orchid residents were elsewhere, and about the fact that engineering studies and financial reports were sent to the Town Council on Friday for review and a vote at 9 a.m. Monday.

Vice Mayor Oatway, in an effort to assuage residents’ concerns about not getting the financials in time, instead raised more eyebrows by his assessment of the documents provided to the council.

“I can tell you as an accountant, you will learn nothing from this,” as he held up the audited financial statements of Marsh Island.

“It told me they get an audit, that they’re solvent and that people pay their dues.”

“That’s even more troubling,” said Orchid resident Steve Leary, probably the most forceful proponent of caution and delay of action.

The general consensus of the residents was that they felt the process -- regardless of the outcome -- could definitely have been more open and transparent. Some even went so far as to call for the matter to be placed on a referendum.

Leary was only one of dozens who voiced concerns about the process and about all the unanswered questions. Leary pointed out that the issue of annexation had been brought up five years ago and then again one year ago with no support.