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Marsh Island backs off from bid to be annexed into Orchid

(Week of April 21, 2011)

Marsh Island backed away from efforts to be annexed into the Town of Orchid after a community straw poll showed more than 93 percent of Orchid’s 244 households opposed the move. The first public hearing of an ordinance for annexation had been scheduled to be voted on Monday during a special meeting of the Orchid Town Council.

Instead, Mayor Richard Dunlop read letters from the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club Board of Governors and the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club Community Association, as well as from John Von Hagen, president of the Marsh Island Homeowners Association.

The board of governors and the community association had been neutral on the annexation issue, with the community association only advocating for “transparency and for the Town Council to provide adequate information for the residents to be able to make an informed decision.” But after information packets were mailed to all Orchid residents, the community association “sponsored a non-binding ‘straw poll’ to determine the sentiment of the community” beginning the week of April 4. 

When the results were tallied, both the community association and the beach club board weighed in.

“Given the landslide nature of the poll results, we urge you to heed the wishes of your constituents and to vote against the Marsh Island annexation,” the board wrote to the Town Council on April 15.

The club board of governors recommended the Town Council remove the item from consideration, which is what ultimately happened.

“The board is very concerned that a decision to annex Marsh Island and ignore the results of the poll will adversely affect the harmonious and collegial atmosphere of the Club,” the board of governors wrote April 15.

In withdrawing Marsh Island’s annexation request, Von Hagen contended in a letter dated April 15 that “much misinformation has been disseminated and scare tactics used in an effort to alarm Orchid residents about the potential impact of annexation . . . even though that impact with respect to most issues raised is small or non-existent” (see Marsh Island letter to the editor, page 39).

“In view of these conditions, the Board of Directors of the Marsh Island Homeowners’ Association has concluded that even if Council members determine that annexation is good for the Town of Orchid and have the courage to vote accordingly, it would not be in the best interest of Marsh Island residents to be annexed into a climate such as the one that currently exists.”

Concerns arose based on data contained in a 37-page bound packet mailed to town residents March 30.

The town attorney said in his report that a pending condemnation of Marsh Island Lot 15, if not concluded in advance of annexation, could be a liability for the town.

Councilman Paul Johnson also conducted an independent investigation, the results of which were included in an appendix to the staff report. He brought out some potential issues, not only regarding the condemnation of Lot 15, but also regarding the uncertainty over a planned transition to developer George Allen and the status of the Marsh Island Marina with regard to property insurance.

Von Hagen expressed the disappointment of the Marsh Island residents and thanked town staff for all the hard work they put into the steps necessary to get the annexation process to the point of taking a vote.

Johnson, who had been characterized as a ringleader of sorts in the effort to sink the annexation deal, said there was no hidden agenda behind his efforts to bring information about disadvantages to annexation.

As an elected official, he said he heard the more than 200 people who came out in November demanding all the information be vetted prior to making an irreversible decision.
Johnson said he felt the council was right to pull the item on the basis of the straw poll results.             

“I think the people on the council acted on what was going to be the best interests of the community,” he said.

Johnson said the annexation would have been “an expansion out of the focus of Orchid Island” where now the same constituency is represented by the Town Council, the Community Association and the board of governors of the Orchid Island Golf and Beach Club.