City limits / boundaries - why not contiguous?

Please Google “Greenville NC” and look at the city limits / borders. Why are they like that? (Greenville is just a good example, but this question is not necessarily about that town specifically. It’s about towns with borders like Greenville’s.)

It looks like one tiny island in the river was granted “town” status (near Rt. 264). There are many pieces of “town” that aren’t connected to the rest of the town, some are very small (Davenport Farm Rd near Woodridge Dr). And even what looks like a plot of land well within the borders of the town (e.g. the end of Compton Rd.) that is NOT part of the town.

General questions:

  1. How exactly does a town evolve like this? How did those tiny liver slivers of land either get to be part of or get excluded from the town? Why would a whole housing development be part of the town but just a few plots (Compton Rd) not be? What’s the rationale behind it? Why/how did that one tiny island get designated part of the town? Again… rationale? Process?

  2. How are municipal services delivered, or not, to those tiny parcels that are or are not part of the town? Police? Fire? Schools?


Generally, the town wants to annex “nice” places and leave “bad” places out of their purview. We have a situation in Georgia, where there are proposals for two cities in DeKalb county. They both want to incorporate a high-income, low-crime area, while neither of them want to incorporate the low-income, high-crime areas. The state legislature won’t let either proposal move forward until they don’t have overlapping boundaries. Meanwhile the residents of the part nobody wants are complaining that “it must be due to racism” (which is an issue that someone raises for every issue in Georgia politics, but in this case I think it has more to do with tax-revenue than with skin color).

Plus, even if the cities work out their boundaries, the residents of the areas in question have to agree via vote to become part of the city. A city might want to annex some land, but if the residents vote against it then too bad for the city.

That explains most weird boundaries. Either the city didn’t want that section, or the residents didn’t want to be part of the city.

They get those services from the county, like any other unincorporated place.

Some unincorporated places have arrangements with nearby municipalities for those things. As an example, around here, children in unincorporated Olmsted Township can go to the public schools run by the adjacent municipality of Olmsted Falls. Which only makes sense, given that the Olmsted Falls public schools are actually in the township. And most of the area around Cleveland, both incorporated suburbs and unincorporated places, depend on Cleveland for their water and sewer. As I understand it, water and sewer access was the primary bargaining chip that Columbus used to absorb all of their suburbs into the metropolis.

Why would anyone want to be part of the city? Around here it just means more taxes and rules against having chickens, bonfires or cars parked in your yard. Is there ever an upside? As far as I know, the school district boundaries usually have no correlation to which locations are within city limits or not.

Having fewer chickens, bonfires, and cars in the neighbors’ yards sounds like an excellent set of reasons to vote for annexation. If it costs me a few bucks to make that happen, so be it.
IOW, it takes all kinds to make a horse race.

It can also mean things like a better police force and a simpler (and possibly cheaper) tax structure. Even if you live in cars-in-yards territory, there’s a good chance that you work in the city, and you might have to pay local taxes both where you are and in the city, for that reason.

Depends on the locality. In Fulton County, GA, all the schools inside Atlanta are part of Atlanta Public Schools, and all the schools outside Atlanta are in Fulton County Schools.

Meanwhile, before Augusta, GA, and Richmond county merged into one entity, the schools where all part of Richmond County Public Schools, which didn’t care where the city lines were drawn in drawing their borders.

Are school boards creatures of the town/township? Here in Canada, it’s not unusual for a schoolboard to span multiple municipalities. They are created by the provinces.

Many, many factors go into this, with many reasons why a particular enclave didn’t want to be annexed or the surrounding city didn’t want it. On the flip side, there are many reasons a city might want to annex something outside its boundaries. Some cities have had policies of very aggressive annexation in their past - San Jose is one such example. Note the border sprawling all over the place, and the numerous enclaves:,+CA/@37.2513611,-122.011408,10.54z/data=!4m5!3m4!1s0x808fcae48af93ff5:0xb99d8c0aca9f717b!8m2!3d37.3382082!4d-121.8863286

From Wiki:

A realtor once told me they annexed Alviso to get federal funds as a “port”. Never mind that getting anything larger than a rowboat into Alviso is patently impossible as the port silted in years ago. There have been some rumblings in recent years about renovating the Alviso port …

IME in the US most school boards start out contiguous with either the city or for more rural areas, the county. But over time they’re subject to mergers, takeovers, splits, etc., just like towns periodically incorporate or disincorporate land.

The local situation usually has gelled by the time suburbia has fully taken over from rural. Then it’s stable for 20 or 30 years until you’ve got older suburbs (or urban areas) dying off and killing the tax revenue and all the kids have moved out so that district goes broke and is absorbed or refounded.

They’re normally separate authorities with a separate governing structure. They normally don’t answer directly to the city or county government even if they cover the same geography.

As such the town may annex areas the school board doesn’t or vice versa. Over time their respective geographies tends to get out of sync.

Each state has its own set of laws that govern municipal entities. Those would include rules about annexation, and definitions of what can and cannot be within a town or city.

You can find nearly-unique oddities in almost every state. For example, look at Lomira, Wisconsin, which has a non-city enclave within, and a strip a half mile long and only a few feet wide connecting another part of the city.

Furthermore, Wisconsin is one of a few states in which Townships have some self-governing status, and the whole rural part of the state is subdivided into townships, which are also within county jurisdiction. Nearly all townships are six miles square.

There usually are two ways an unincorporated area can be annexed into a municipality. One, three-fourths of the residents of the area petition the municipality to become a part of the municipality. Two, the municipality may annex adjoining lands or land if that title holder consents. In any event, any such annexation must abut the municipality, but public streets and other public lands may be used to establish this. As a case in point, Chicago annexed O’Hare airport even though it is separated by 10-15 miles from the city. The city used the Interstate for contiguity, and it also annexed the highway for good measure, I believe.

Around here, the school districts mostly correspond to the cities (at least, where there are cities), aside from a few that are too small to have their own. But there are also the career technical districts, where (usually) multiple school districts will cooperate to set up a trade school. So in the suburb I’m in, the public high school has a number of classes that aren’t technically part of that school, attended by students from four different suburbs (they’re usually bussed in for the trade classes, and go back to their regular schools for the basic courses like English and history).

Right. Likewise, the way you constitute school or water districts run by elected boards would be a matter of state law (including such law as delegates the specifics to the county or to the municipality).

See: Elk Grove CA

A huuuge mall developer wanted to put up yet another “High-End” mall in a field on the south side of Sacramento.
Sacto County denied the building permit.

The developer then starts hinting"Ya, know folks, iffn you were a City, YOU could decide things like building permits. And you’d be able to tax this $3 million/day mall…
With that kind of income, the costs of a running a city becomes small change…
How about a vote on Incorporation?

So, the Elk Grove neighborhood became the City of Elk Grove, and construction began.

It folded in 2008 and the developer went bankrupt.

All kinds of reasons for wanting to be/not be a City or portion of one.

As to Greenville NC - that is simply bizarre - it reeks of under-the-table deals. AKA corruption.

What! Corruption in NC!? Can’t be!

I’m pretty sure there are 50 different sets of annexation laws, one for each state. New York’s laws don’t resemble these in any way.

There are no general answers to the OP’s questions. It really does depend on local situations and history.

Only 49 different answers, as Hawai’i has no incorporated municipalities.

Most states do not allow annexation unless the new territory is contiguous; North Carolina appears to allow “satellite” annexation of territory within a three-mile sphere of influence (many states allow extraterritorial control on the theory that those areas will someday be brought into the city growing toward them). I highly recommend you consult an actual map made by any given municipality to see a municipality’s true borders—rather than rely on the reddish polygons only recently added to Google Maps. I had some trouble finding a proper municipal map for Greenville, N.C., but this one will do. It’s frustrating because street rights-of-way are also white, but if you examine it closely you’ll see there seem to only be a couple of noncontiguous areas. Pitt County’s GIS viewer is somewhat clearer, and shows the same situation with satellite annexations.

Close, but not quite. In 1956, Chicago annexed O’Hare Field by extending a narrow strip along Higgins Road and East River Road, a strip only 33 feet wide in some places. A state court decision about 1961 ruled that annexation of a mere road right-of-way was insufficient contiguity for annexation, so Chicago engineered a land swap with Rosemont and overcame suburban opposition to its annexation of forest preserves, and put together the narrow, irregular corridor along Foster Ave. that today connects O’Hare to Chicago.

Municipalities in Ohio don’t run schools (except Cleveland since 1998). Kids go to school based on what school district they live in, not which city or township they live in. They’re separate layers of government and school districts can cross municipal, township, and county lines.

(This is a big issue in Columbus. Unlike the Cleveland area where the school districts mostly match up, large portions of the city are in suburban school districts. Since people identify with their local schools and their zip code more than their city council, there are a substantial number of Columbus residents who don’t actually know they live in Columbus.)

Here is a map of Chicago.

Chicago is lightly shaded in pink and its border is outlined in a darker pink.
I’ve circled O’Hare in the upper left corner.

The east-west distance between the two red lines is 10 miles.

If you go 10 miles east from O’Hare, you will have almost crossed the entire width of the city. If you go 15 miles east, you better know how to swim.

Thanks for the info. I’ve been living in SC for a number of years and have been out of the “loop.” :slight_smile: