Incorporation, Abolition, and Annexation

Monday, January 1, 2007

In North Carolina a city may be established--that is, incorporated--in only one way: by an act of the General Assembly. Such an act establishes the initial borders of the city and enacts its charter. No standards restrict the legislature’s discretion in incorporation. It may incorporate an area with very few people or with a largely rural character; it may even incorporate an area in anticipation of development, before any city in fact exists. The single constitutional restriction on the General Assembly’s power of incorporation is found in Article VII, Section 1, of the state constitution. That provision stipulates that if a community lies within 1 mile of the limits of an existing city of 5,000 people or more, within 3 miles of a city of 10,000 or more, within 4 miles of a city of 25,000 or more, or within 5 miles of a city of 50,000 or more, then the General Assembly may incorporate that community only on approval of three-fifths of the members of each house. This provision reflects a state policy that favors annexation by existing cities of urban areas near their borders, over incorporation of new cities. As a practical matte, unless the nearby city objects to the incorporation of the new city, achieving a three-fifths vote is not difficult; if the existing city does object, however, it may well be impossible to secure the three-fifths vote.

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