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Old 12-10-2012, 06:14 AM
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Why do so many US cities have holes in them? (Border question)


For a little while now, when you search for a US town or city in Google Maps, it has helpfully highlighted the boundaries of the place in question rather than just dropping a marker pin somewhere in the middle.

I've noticed that lots of these boundaries are extremely complex, and are full of holes - little islands of territory that are seemingly not part of the city.

An example: Columbus, Ohio. (The boundaries may be clearer if you switch from aerial to map view.)

What the heck is going on there? There are vast numbers of "holes" in the city territory. Quite a few of them seem to correspond to schools (why would schools not be part of the city that surrounds them?) but many are just seemingly unremarkable residential areas that don't look any different from those adjacent to them. In a few cases it even looks like a single house is excluded from the city, but it's hard to verify that as the boundaries disappear when you zoom in too far.

As an example, look at this house and zoom out a few levels until the boundaries reappear.

What kind of Orwellian bureaucratic nightmare is this? Is it gerrymandering gone mad, or something less sinister?

Last edited by Colophon; 12-10-2012 at 06:14 AM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:00 AM
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The general story is that a city will try to annex existing settlements as it expands outwards. Most of these settlements will have the incentives (hook up to fire, police, and utility services, etc.) to agree to be annexed, but sometimes a few will not -- usually, because they have enough of their own wealth that they can provide for their own services, and would prefer to not pay the higher taxes that usually cones with being part of a large city.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:48 AM
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The general story is that a city will try to annex existing settlements as it expands outwards. Most of these settlements will have the incentives (hook up to fire, police, and utility services, etc.) to agree to be annexed, but sometimes a few will not -- usually, because they have enough of their own wealth that they can provide for their own services, and would prefer to not pay the higher taxes that usually cones with being part of a large city.
I can understand if they were village-sized settlements but many of these "holes" are only a block or two, or even a single building.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:49 AM
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I guess I don't spend enough time on Google Maps, and must have something disabled, because I don't see boundaries at all.
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Old 12-10-2012, 07:51 AM
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My neighborhood is a bit of an island but people around here want to be in our city because it has great schools. Since it's a new neighborhood and there's not many places in the city left to build a lot of homes, I expect the city annexed the land so the developer could build homes that would be in the city.

There is a school a half mile away that is not in the city. It serves the county residents
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:03 AM
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I guess I don't spend enough time on Google Maps, and must have something disabled, because I don't see boundaries at all.
OK. Maybe I do see them at certain zoom levels.
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:11 AM
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usually, because they have enough of their own wealth that they can provide for their own services
Around these parts at least, the newly annexed homeowners can be assessed tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of having water and sewer lines run through their neighborhood, whether they choose to hook up or not. Even if they are allowed to finance the assessment, the finance payments plus the regular water and sewer fees are likely going to cost them more, at least in the short run, than sticking with the well and septic system they likely already had. Throw in the extra city taxes on top of that and being annexed is often least palatable to the people without a lot of money to spare.

Last edited by Baracus; 12-10-2012 at 08:12 AM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:17 AM
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Around these parts at least, the newly annexed homeowners can be assessed tens of thousands of dollars for the privilege of having water and sewer lines run through their neighborhood, whether they choose to hook up or not. Even if they are allowed to finance the assessment, the finance payments plus the regular water and sewer fees are likely going to cost them more, at least in the short run, than sticking with the well and septic system they likely already had. Throw in the extra city taxes on top of that and being annexed is often least palatable to the people without a lot of money to spare.
Good point. I bet this applies in many situations. There are definitely examples, though, of wealthy settlements choosing to not be annexed by a growing city.

As for Colophon's question as to why just a few-blocks area would end up thus...that's a very good question, and I'm looking forward to others' responses on this. Sometimes, I'm guessing, it could be that it IS a school, say, which serves a nearby settlement...perhaps in an unicorporated part of a county...and the big city's built-up area has reached the school, but not yet the population center of the settlement the school serves. (ETA: I see that Fubaya already sort of alluded to this possibility.)

I'm tempted to suggest that it can sometimes have something to do with individual landowners refusing to become part of a city, but I don't think it ever works that way. Even a developer who temporarily owns a large area can't do this him/herself (AFAIK), but of course they could have a lot of influence at township or county board meetings and the like.

Last edited by JKellyMap; 12-10-2012 at 08:18 AM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:21 AM
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Some of them might be parks that existed before the city expanded that far and so remained affiliated with the state instead of the city. But mostly I expect JKelleyMap has it right -- they're small enclaves of a preexisting municipality that didn't join up when the city expanded.

--Cliffy
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:28 AM
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I guess I don't spend enough time on Google Maps, and must have something disabled, because I don't see boundaries at all.
I'm guessing here.

If you click on the second link and go out nine levels you see that the irregular boundary of Columbus, which is marked by a thick pinkish line, has some sections in white with little detail. It's especially noticeable to the southwest of the intersection of I-70 and I-71, labeled South Hilltop and Riverbend.

I found Henkel's Columbus Geo-Spatial Identity Map , which delineates the various neighborhoods in Columbus in numerous colors. The Riverbend area is a stained glass of mosaic of tiny colors that seem more or less to correspond to the white areas in the standard Google map.

I don't know enough about Columbus to know if these are formal subdivisions or not. Cleveland doesn't show any, but Cincinnati has a couple of them. Norwood is labeled on the map, and it's a separate city that happens to lie entirely within the boundaries of Cincinnati, what is technically known as an enclave. The world has zillions of enclaves. And exclaves, too.

They all exist because of quirks of history, areas that refused to be overrun, or incorporated, or annexed, or who gained independence later on. Each has its own long story. Maybe some expert on Columbus history can explain these.
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Old 12-10-2012, 08:52 AM
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Quirks of history is probably the only generalized answer that can be offered. I don't know how it works in other states, but in Ohio, once a jurisdiction has been "incorporated" in the form of a city or village (the distinction between city and village is based solely on population), it can no longer be absorbed by a neighboring incorporated city or village.

Also, generally speaking, a city will usually try to annex areas that are already developed or are about to be developed -- that is, that it already has roads, utilities, commercial development, and residences. It takes a certain level of tax base and population density to make it worthwhile to annex an area. So, when annexation lines are drawn, they will avoid areas that are still primarily farmland.

Taking one case in the Columbus area as an example, when the Village of Bexley was first incorporated, it was likely nearby or adjacent to the City of Columbus. As Columbus grew through annexation of unincorporated jurisdictions (townships), it simply went around Bexley, eventually making it an enclave.

In Ohio, it's also common for unincorporated jurisdictions to incorporate in anticipation of annexation by a nearby city. That's what happened with the City of Huber Heights in 1981. At the time, the residents of Wayne Township, Montgomery County, Ohio, feared annexation by the City of Dayton. The law at the time allowed Dayton to veto an attempt by Wayne Township to incorporate, but the state representative for that area, Tom Fries, managed to get legislation passed that would allow Wayne Township to incorporate, and it became the City of Huber Heights, blocking annexation by Dayton.

Last edited by Acsenray; 12-10-2012 at 08:56 AM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:00 AM
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I spent four years in Urbana/Champaign, IL. Someone once explained to me that it was impossible for the towns to merge, although they shared a common border for a couple miles (e.g. my office was in Champaign, but my dept. office across the street in Urbana). The reason they gave was there was a state law that required that a town have no holes (it was described to me as requiring towns to be simply connected) and there was some unincorporated property (I think it was a cemetery) between them that would cause a merged city to violate the law. So in Illinois, at least 50 years ago, it was not allowed in Illinois.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:31 AM
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Originally Posted by JKellyMap View Post
The general story is that a city will try to annex existing settlements as it expands outwards. Most of these settlements will have the incentives (hook up to fire, police, and utility services, etc.) to agree to be annexed, but sometimes a few will not -- usually, because they have enough of their own wealth that they can provide for their own services, and would prefer to not pay the higher taxes that usually cones with being part of a large city.
In my experience, the question of annexation never falls to the desires of the neighborhood being considered, so the description you give is somewhat accurate but completely inverted.

What it always comes down to is the wishes of the annexing city. The wishes of the residents are less than irrelevant.

And the wishes of the annexing city almost always comes down to the revenue (taxation) potential of the candidate neighborhood.

So in the latter case, the well-off settlement, with good services and low (presumably mostly paid off) development debts would be annexed in a second. The city is thinking "yummy yummy property tax assessments, and no expensive debts to assume!". The residents of the neighborhood, OTOH, would be saying "Crap. Now we have to put up with city-provided 'services'. Which we know are inferior to what we're paying for now. But that's ok, because we'll pay more taxes for the privilege of inferior services. Yaaay."

OTOH, an independent subdivision still reeking with development debt will be avoided by the city like a dead skunk on a hot day. A city isn't going to annex a subdivision out of the kindness of its heart. If it's not a money-making proposition, they're not doing it.

It's gotten to the point that well-to-do neighborhoods in severely outlying portions of the county are annexed, even against the rule that annexed territories have to be capable of some contiguous boundary with the city, by also annexing a narrow uninhabited strip along the road between the nearest city boundary and the subdivision. Paying road maintenance on 100 yards of a street to get access to several tens of millions of dollars of revenue-positive taxable residential property seems to be worth it.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:43 AM
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In my experience, the question of annexation never falls to the desires of the neighborhood being considered, so the description you give is somewhat accurate but completely inverted.

What it always comes down to is the wishes of the annexing city. The wishes of the residents are less than irrelevant.
This is entirely a state-decided measure. In most of the northeastern states, when the affluent suburbs began resisting the efforts of cities to annex them - and this was in the late 19th/early 20th century - they got laws passed requiring that both areas had to agree to an annexation, usually with a full referendum. (Or any of a dozen other small variants.) Therefore, annexing stopped cold in almost all cases because the suburbs didn't want the problems of the cities.

This includes a large swath of the country. What you're talking about seems to be true only of newer cities in the Sun Belt where subdivisions keep popping up.

In the U.S., your local situation is almost never a guide to how the rest of the country functions.

Last edited by Exapno Mapcase; 12-10-2012 at 11:43 AM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:52 AM
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This whole concept seems totally alien from a British point of view - cities "annexing" surrounding land etc. Over here, a town is in the district and county it's in, and that's that. You pay your taxes to the district (or borough, or city) council. Obviously some cities are big enough that they constitute an entire council area on their own, but you don't have islands of non-city area within them.


I confess to having no clue how taxation etc at the local level works in the US.
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Old 12-10-2012, 11:56 AM
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This whole concept seems totally alien from a British point of view - cities "annexing" surrounding land etc. Over here, a town is in the district and county it's in, and that's that. You pay your taxes to the district (or borough, or city) council. Obviously some cities are big enough that they constitute an entire council area on their own, but you don't have islands of non-city area within them.


I confess to having no clue how taxation etc at the local level works in the US.
What happens when rural farmland outside a city gets converted to city streets or suburbs and de facto becomes part of the urban landscape? Is there a process to add the land to the city or does it just stay the way it always has?

E.g.:

John: "Why don't we move into the new apartments opening up across the street?"

Mary: "Those apartments are legally rural. They aren't part of the legal city and will never be so. We wouldn't be able to send our kids to city schools."
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:00 PM
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What happens when rural farmland outside a city gets converted to city streets or suburbs and de facto becomes part of the urban landscape? Is there a process to add the land to the city or does it just stay the way it always has?

E.g.:

John: "Why don't we move into the new apartments opening up across the street?"

Mary: "Those apartments are legally rural. They aren't part of the legal city and will never be so. We wouldn't be able to send our kids to city schools."
Everywhere in the UK is already part of a council area (city, borough or district - the names vary), so it makes no difference. Farmland or housing, it's still part of the same area for tax purposes.

For example, I live in Hart District, in the county of Hampshire. Hopefully the border shows up on that map link. As you can see, much of it is fairly rural but there are also several towns. Regardless of where you live in that district, you pay the same taxes etc (obviously dependent on property value). Schools have geographic catchment areas that don't correspond to council boundaries etc.

Sometimes boundaries do get adjusted so that a given town isn't split between two counties, but often that doesn't happen. If the district boundary shows up on this link you can see that it ploughs straight through the middle of the suburbs, such that neighbouring houses on the same street are in different council areas.

Last edited by Colophon; 12-10-2012 at 12:03 PM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:01 PM
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I can understand if they were village-sized settlements but many of these "holes" are only a block or two, or even a single building.
In that case it's usually just a matter of the quirks of history. The city previously annexed some of the surrounding neighborhoods but for some reason those few blocks were left out. Maybe nobody was living there then. Maybe the city couldn't afford it then.

There's a small neighborhood of unincorporated Santa Clara County that San Jose has been trying to annex for a few years now. It's only a few blocks.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:04 PM
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Everywhere in the UK is already part of a council area (city, borough or district - the names vary), so it makes no difference. Farmland or housing, it's still part of the same area for tax purposes.

For example, I live in Hart District, in the county of Hampshire. Hopefully the border shows up on that map link. As you can see, much of it is fairly rural but there are also several towns. Regardless of where you live in that district, you pay the same taxes etc (obviously dependent on property value). Schools have geographic catchment areas that don't correspond to council boundaries etc.
One thing to bear in mind is that the administrative hierarchy varies a lot from country to country. As a professional in the GIS industry this is something that I deal with a lot. As you've discovered, there is a significant difference between the UK and the US in this respect. Every place in the UK is part of a council area, but not every place in the US is part of a city or town.

ETA: This makes an address-search algorithm (for a GPS system, for example) that works on a world-wide basis very challenging.

Last edited by suranyi; 12-10-2012 at 12:06 PM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:09 PM
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The Chicago suburb of Wheaton was dry until the 80's, but there was this one bar that was in a tiny little building-sized exclave. I'm not sure if the situation was that they couldn't annex that parcel because there was a bar there and the town was dry or if some opportunist opened the bar in the exclave.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:09 PM
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Everywhere in the UK is already part of a council area (city, borough or district - the names vary), so it makes no difference. Farmland or housing, it's still part of the same area for tax purposes.

For example, I live in Hart District, in the county of Hampshire. Hopefully the border shows up on that map link. As you can see, much of it is fairly rural but there are also several towns. Regardless of where you live in that district, you pay the same taxes etc (obviously dependent on property value). Schools have geographic catchment areas that don't correspond to council boundaries etc.

Sometimes boundaries do get adjusted so that a given town isn't split between two counties, but often that doesn't happen. If the district boundary shows up on this link you can see that it ploughs straight through the middle of the suburbs, such that neighbouring houses on the same street are in different council areas.
There's a historic trend in the US where incorporated cities (which often carry with them increased tax) are supposed to cover only the actual urban area and not the surrounding countryside. Considering that we have 50 states and all of them have the sovereign right to divvy up local government as they see fit, we have a lot of variation. Here in Virginia, the City of Virginia Beach includes quite a bit of rural countryside that is legally part of the city (so City Police have jurisdiction, kids go to City Schools, etc.), while the County of Arlington is mostly urban city streets but is completely unincorporated. But essentially, local borders are a game and politicians may want to add that land or dump that land for purposes other than making the most elegant map or best serving citizens.

Last edited by robert_columbia; 12-10-2012 at 12:12 PM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:14 PM
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This whole concept seems totally alien from a British point of view - cities "annexing" surrounding land etc. Over here, a town is in the district and county it's in, and that's that. You pay your taxes to the district (or borough, or city) council. Obviously some cities are big enough that they constitute an entire council area on their own, but you don't have islands of non-city area within them.

I confess to having no clue how taxation etc at the local level works in the US.
In the United States, the only unchanging borders are the state borders (state borders may change, but it is quite rare these days for there to be significant changes in state borders).

And a lot of the system developed during a period when "uninhabited" land was being settled by whites. People would move in to an area that was governed as part of a large, unincorporated territory. As time went on and population densities increased, the areas with population would be cut off into smaller jurisdictions. As the densities became high enough to constitute urban areas, they became "incorporated" with a full municipal government. So even now, as a settlement grows, it may be up to the residents themselves to decide what kind of government they want -- a full municipal government, or a bare-bones county/township government.

So for any single state, you can look at historical maps that start with a handful of large counties, which were subsequently subdivided as the population grew.

Now, the exact process for how this works differs on a state-by-state basis, but even now something like this process continues throughout most of the country.

Speaking very generally, a state is divided into counties. County governments are typically smaller and provide relatively few services and taxes are low. Counties may be further subdivided (in Ohio, these unincorporated subdivisions are called "townships.").

If an urban spot starts developing in a township, then at some point, the residents of that spot may seek to become an incorporated municipality (in Ohio, a "village," which automatically becomes a "city" when it reaches a certain population).

Most of the time, the incorporated municipality remains part of the surrounding county (in some states, like Virginia, cities and counties are separate jurisdictions), but becomes separated from the surrounding township (and sometimes it remains part of the surrounding township). As the area becomes more and more urbanized, the incorporated municipality can continue to swallow up surrounding unincorporated areas.

Taxes may be levied at several levels (income tax, sales tax, and property tax) -- state, county, township, municipality. Generally speaking, municipality taxes are higher than county and township taxes, to pay for more extensive police, fire, emergency, water, power, sewage, garbage, etc., services, than is available in unincorporated areas.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:17 PM
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Taxes may be levied at several levels (income tax, sales tax, and property tax) -- state, county, township, municipality. Generally speaking, municipality taxes are higher than county and township taxes, to pay for more extensive police, fire, emergency, water, power, sewage, garbage, etc., services, than is available in unincorporated areas.
To clarify, when I said "you pay your taxes to the district (etc) council", I meant the "council tax", which is based on the value of your property and pays for council services, rubbish collection, street maintenance, police etc. Income and sales tax are collected at the national level and don't vary between council areas. Water/sewage and power are privatised so you pay those directly to the private companies.

Last edited by Colophon; 12-10-2012 at 12:18 PM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:30 PM
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I spent four years in Urbana/Champaign, IL. Someone once explained to me that it was impossible for the towns to merge, although they shared a common border for a couple miles (e.g. my office was in Champaign, but my dept. office across the street in Urbana). The reason they gave was there was a state law that required that a town have no holes (it was described to me as requiring towns to be simply connected) and there was some unincorporated property (I think it was a cemetery) between them that would cause a merged city to violate the law.
Not correct. Champaign and Urbana could merge and in fact voted on the matter twice, once in the 1950's and once in 1978, when I was a student there. Both cities rejected the merger both times.

Illinois cities can have holes. The cities of Norridge and Harwood Heights together form a large hole in Chicago. The only requirement in state law is that cities must be contiguous, which is why Chicago had to annex a block-wide strip between Rosemont and Schiller Park in order to annex O'Hare.
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:32 PM
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To clarify, when I said "you pay your taxes to the district (etc) council", I meant the "council tax", which is based on the value of your property and pays for council services, rubbish collection, street maintenance, police etc. Income and sales tax are collected at the national level and don't vary between council areas. Water/sewage and power are privatised so you pay those directly to the private companies.
Well, in the United States, everyone pays federal income tax and payroll taxes (social security, Medicare, etc.). That's the only blanket statement you can make. People might pay state income, sales, or property tax. They might pay county sales tax. They might pay municipal income, sales, or property tax. They might pay township property tax.

It just depends on what jurisdictions you live in and what taxes have been instituted in those jurisdictions.

Trash collection, fire/ambulance services, water, sewage, and power might be provided by government services or by private services (and some fire/ambulance services are run by volunteers). Again, it all depends on where you live. There is no uniformity. (Indeed, in some places, liquor can be purchased only from the government. And there are some "dry" jurisdictions, where you can't buy any alcoholic beverages at all.)
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Old 12-10-2012, 12:59 PM
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. . . What it always comes down to is the wishes of the annexing city. The wishes of the residents are less than irrelevant. . . .
Stockton is full of County holes, and here the wishes of the residents are very much relevant. It's only been in the last ten years that the City had an ordinance stating that if we ran sewer or water lines out to new development, that development would automatically become part of the city whenever the city wished it to.

That's not going to help the old holes, but it should minimize the number of new ones. Sometimes, someone in the City will start looking at the holes and thinking of the possibilities. It doesn't help that some of those holes include influential people and that the County supports these areas staying strictly County as long as they prefer it.

The comments about the cost of annexation are apt. San Joaquin County does not require streets to have sidewalks or storm drains. The City of Stockton does. So when Stockton annexes an area, the city will eventually have to reconstruct the streets to include sidewalks and storm drains. And if the added storm drains would overclock the existing system, drainage basins and pump stations will need to be added. A million dollars would cover about four blocks of street reconstruction, maybe five if we got lucky.

Not that the City has a deadline to install the improvements. But it would be foolish to annex an area when there was no possibility of funding the transition for more than ten years. People get testy when they pay increased property assessments for years and still don't have their sidewalks.

ETA: Acsenray, don't forget assessment districts. Those can be any shape or size, voluntary or involuntary. The assessment gets collected with your property taxes. They can fund additional streetlights, levees, school improvements, just about anything.

Last edited by Yllaria; 12-10-2012 at 01:03 PM.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:22 PM
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I've actually never heard of assessment districts. So that's another thing to add to the table in some states. Another thing is school districts, which in some states are completely unrelated to other kinds of jurisdictions. In Ohio for example school district boundaries do not necessarily follow county, township, or municipal boundaries exactly.
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Old 12-10-2012, 05:30 PM
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Annexation in Ohio has gotten progressively more difficult since the mid-20th century. When Columbus first started moving outwards, it was able to annex an entire township (Marion Township) and a couple of villages (East Columbus and Hanford, which I think were both near Bexley), so there aren't many holes in the older parts of the city. (The villages may have gone willingly, but I read once that Marion Township didn't know what was happening before it hit them.)

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Quite a few of them seem to correspond to schools (why would schools not be part of the city that surrounds them?)
If the school was there before the city arrived, then it might have just been that the school district that runs the school didn't want the land in the city for some reason. (I don't know if school districts are taxed or not. They're separate entities from cities, though, so the city limits don't usually matter. The Columbus City School District has entirely different boundaries from the City of Columbus, although some strange agreement, unique in the state, means that land in Franklin County annexed since the early 90s gets moved into the Columbus district, so the Columbus school district has weird little islands far away from the main area. There are still huge areas of Columbus that have a suburban-sounding school district like Westerville or Dublin or Hilliard.)

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 12-10-2012 at 05:32 PM.
  #29  
Old 12-10-2012, 06:58 PM
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I've actually never heard of assessment districts. So that's another thing to add to the table in some states. Another thing is school districts, which in some states are completely unrelated to other kinds of jurisdictions. In Ohio for example school district boundaries do not necessarily follow county, township, or municipal boundaries exactly.
Same in California. For example, the New Haven Unified School District covers all of Union City and a little piece of Hayward.
  #30  
Old 12-11-2012, 06:28 AM
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Stockton is full of County holes, and here the wishes of the residents are very much relevant.
[...]
The comments about the cost of annexation are apt. San Joaquin County does not require streets to have sidewalks or storm drains.
I just looked at Stockton on Google Maps and I see what you mean. There's a tiny hole right here comprising most of Wright Avenue. I had a look on Street View to see if there was any difference, and sure enough the sidewalk runs out pretty much right on the boundary. (Scroll forward a couple of steps from that view.) Weird.
  #31  
Old 12-11-2012, 07:05 AM
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As for Colophon's question as to why just a few-blocks area would end up thus...that's a very good question, and I'm looking forward to others' responses on this.
As others have said, this will vary state-to-state -- and in Florida, due to the vagaries of county government, from county-to-county as well. My previous house was on a street where the city had annexed most of the properties, except mine and the house on either side.

There was no good reason for the residents to allow annexation; the only service we weren't being provided by the city was garbage collection, and since we were the only such houses on the block, the garbage men mostly didn't know any better and picked up our garbage anyway. We paid the county for our water, and county property taxes, so it was cheaper for us to stay outside the city.

This is an issue in Florida, and here is a good journal article outlining why.
  #32  
Old 12-11-2012, 07:21 AM
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Same in California. For example, the New Haven Unified School District covers all of Union City and a little piece of Hayward.
The Rivendale School District is an interstate body, covering towns in NH and VT. There's no end of oddball setups.
  #33  
Old 12-11-2012, 07:38 AM
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When I worked for the City of Rochester, I once had a project that required showing that we had a good title to every city-owned park or park-like area. 107 of them. That meant two big jobs: one, figuring out what exactly the boundaries were; and two, going back into 19th century City Council records to see if and when the transactions were recorded.

As anybody who works with titles knows - and which I had to learn - older titles were often vague and imprecise and sometimes plain inaccurate. They really did record a plot of land as starting from the big elm tree and proceeding six chains north by northeast. Street names changed over time. In fact, streets appeared and disappeared. Numbering systems changed. Plots were divided and subdivided and bought and merged. The earliest parks had no legal history at all: they were open areas when the city incorporated in 1834, like proverbial village commons areas. Later ones might be mentioned with a name but no boundaries.

In brief, cities grow one parcel at a time. And the slightest irregularly in recording one means that every other one becomes progressively more off. This is true even in the cities that were made out of the Northwest Territories, which unlike the east, were surveyed and gridded before selling the land. In reality, the surveys of the early 19th century just weren't good enough to achieve perfect results, especially if the land was uneven or riddled with waterways.

And when cities grew, getting the area incorporated precisely accurate to the last plot of land was a time-consuming chore that often got fudged. Boundaries didn't necessarily match or butt perfectly up against one another, and some land got included or not included that wasn't in anybody's mind when they looked at it across ten miles.

I found the history aspects of that project to be fascinating. The fussy minutiae of getting every last inch of boundary footage correct drove me crazy and I didn't have the time or expertise to handle it. We got down to that level of detail only when absolutely necessary, like when we found that people had built their houses across a park boundary line. And even those got shuffled off to the lawyers.

But I completely understand why city borders can look like fractal art. People didn't look at the big picture. Still don't. It's always piece by piece.
  #34  
Old 12-11-2012, 08:38 AM
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Every state is different but in a lot of states, cities have the right to annex land from neighboring counties. The cities aren't interested in keeping things nice and neat, they are interested in drawing in the neighboring areas that bring in the most money and they aren't iterested in areas that require services but don't provide cash. Some cities annex only the road surface between itself and some area they want, so the city might be bar-bell shaped.

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There's a historic trend in the US where incorporated cities (which often carry with them increased tax) are supposed to cover only the actual urban area and not the surrounding countryside. Considering that we have 50 states and all of them have the sovereign right to divvy up local government as they see fit, we have a lot of variation. Here in Virginia, the City of Virginia Beach includes quite a bit of rural countryside that is legally part of the city (so City Police have jurisdiction, kids go to City Schools, etc.), while the County of Arlington is mostly urban city streets but is completely unincorporated. But essentially, local borders are a game and politicians may want to add that land or dump that land for purposes other than making the most elegant map or best serving citizens.
An interesting example. Virginia is the only state with independent cities, cities that are NOT part of any county. In every other state, a city is part of the county (or similar) it is in. The interesting thing about Virginia Beach is that it used to be a county and was incorporated into the city in the '60s as part of the battle over segregation. In order to prevent neighboring Norfolk (mostly black) from annexing parts of old Princess Anne county (mostly white) and then bussing the students there, the tiny city of Virginia Beach just took over the whole damned county.
  #35  
Old 12-11-2012, 08:44 AM
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An interesting example. Virginia is the only state with independent cities, cities that are NOT part of any county.
Almost true. There are 42 independent cities. Virginia has 39. The other three are Baltimore, Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, and Carson City, Nevada.
  #36  
Old 12-11-2012, 08:59 AM
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In my area there is the weird case of Metuchen. It is the hole in the donut that is Edison NJ. Edison is a township of 100,000 with the totally independent borough of Metuchen in the middle, population 13,000.
  #37  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:10 AM
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Los Angeles has a whole bunch of cities within it's borders. I have no idea how that works.
  #38  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:16 AM
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Los Angeles has a whole bunch of cities within it's borders. I have no idea how that works.
That's a list of cities in Los Angeles County, one of which is the City of Los Angeles. There's nothing unusual about that.
  #39  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:27 AM
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That's a list of cities in Los Angeles County, one of which is the City of Los Angeles. There's nothing unusual about that.
But Los Angeles itself is a very bizarre shape, with holes in and a skinny southward extension to San Pedro.
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Old 12-11-2012, 09:30 AM
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In my experience, the question of annexation never falls to the desires of the neighborhood being considered, so the description you give is somewhat accurate but completely inverted.

What it always comes down to is the wishes of the annexing city. The wishes of the residents are less than irrelevant.
If this were true, Piedmont would be part of Oakland.

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Almost true. There are 42 independent cities. Virginia has 39. The other three are Baltimore, Maryland, St. Louis, Missouri, and Carson City, Nevada.
Shouldn't that list include New York, which covers multiple counties, and San Francisco, which is legally a city and a county?

Last edited by gatorslap; 12-11-2012 at 09:33 AM.
  #41  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:32 AM
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But Los Angeles itself is a very bizarre shape, with holes in and a skinny southward extension to San Pedro.
I think we've established by now that this is common for American municipal jurisdictions. Los Angeles is nothing special in this respect.

Dayton, Ohio, has such a narrow strand connecting the main part of the city with the airport, that the strand doesn't even show up on the same scale map.
  #42  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:33 AM
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Shouldn't that list include New York, which covers multiple counties, and San Francisco, which is legally a city and a county?
An independent city is a city that is not part of any county. New York is part of five counties and San Francisco is part of a county, albeit a county that is merged with the city. So those aren't independent cities.
  #43  
Old 12-11-2012, 09:37 AM
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And take a look at the City of Riverside, Ohio, which is adjacent to Dayton. It's made up of several discrete, non-adjacent chunks. That happened after the City of Dayton had already annexed several chunks of Mad River Township, and the remaining bits of the township decided to merge with the Village of Riverside to forestall any more annexations.
  #44  
Old 12-11-2012, 10:03 AM
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Interesting article on complex enclaves on the Belgian/Dutch border:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/pol...wn-world/1267/

I also understand that Switzerland has enclave issues with Germany and Italy, where portions of Germany and Italy are enclosed by Switzerland.

There are plenty of urban and suburban landscapes that straddle a seemingly arbitrary state line here in the US, where one side of town is in one state and the other half is in another, but it doesn't usually get too complex and there are relatively few true enclaves. Many of the state borders on the east coast are based on rivers, so you have the phenomenon of a single urban area bisected by a river, and the two halves are considered separate municipalities in separate states (e.g. Philadelphia, PA and Camden, NJ), but in practice function as a united economic and cultural area.
  #45  
Old 12-11-2012, 10:09 AM
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Interesting article on complex enclaves on the Belgian/Dutch border:

http://www.theatlanticcities.com/pol...wn-world/1267/
There is a similar situation on the border of West Bengal and Bangladesh.
  #46  
Old 12-11-2012, 11:49 AM
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In that case it's usually just a matter of the quirks of history. The city previously annexed some of the surrounding neighborhoods but for some reason those few blocks were left out. Maybe nobody was living there then. Maybe the city couldn't afford it then.

There's a small neighborhood of unincorporated Santa Clara County that San Jose has been trying to annex for a few years now. It's only a few blocks.
San Jose is one of the notable annexers with a highly irregular shape and several unannexed enclaves:

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=san+j...ornia&t=m&z=11

I think it's one of the contributory factors to San Jose being much larger than people think it is (larger than SF). It sprawls. I was once told by a realtor that they annexed Alviso so that they could claim status as a "seaport", in spite of the fact that getting anything much larger than a rowboat into the defunct, silted shut port of Alviso is pretty much impossible. There are suggestions floated from time to time about restoring Alviso as a port. AFAIK, the suggestions are the only things that have floated.
  #47  
Old 12-11-2012, 12:24 PM
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There was an area like that in Albuquerque. Willamina Cole (sp?) was a long time holdout. She had a small spread that the city completely grew around. She left it to a church, and now it is close spaced mcHousing, except for the big new church at one end.

This pre-dates the internet, so I am unable to find anything online about her.
  #48  
Old 12-11-2012, 01:54 PM
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San Jose is one of the notable annexers with a highly irregular shape and several unannexed enclaves:

https://maps.google.com/maps?q=san+j...ornia&t=m&z=11

I think it's one of the contributory factors to San Jose being much larger than people think it is (larger than SF). It sprawls.
Yeah. San Jose's official area is 10 times that of San Francisco. In fact, its land area is almost exactly the size of Los Angeles' and that's famous for its sprawl.
  #49  
Old 12-11-2012, 02:05 PM
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But Los Angeles itself is a very bizarre shape, with holes in and a skinny southward extension to San Pedro.
The extension was annexed to give them control of what became the Port of Los Angeles. They didn't take the whole bay, though. I know that Long Beach operates from part of it, too.
  #50  
Old 12-11-2012, 02:05 PM
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Dayton, Ohio, has such a narrow strand connecting the main part of the city with the airport, that the strand doesn't even show up on the same scale map.
There is no strand. It's a separate "island." I assume it was allowed because the city owns and runs the airport.

ETA: http://www.flydayton.com/index.php?page=about-day

Quote:
The Airport is unique because it is considered an “island” of the City, as the majority of the Airport property (approximately 3,000 acres) was officially annexed into the City of Dayton during the 1980s.

Last edited by Lord Feldon; 12-11-2012 at 02:07 PM.
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