Annexation book author says Raleigh low-balling him out of spite

jshaffer@newsobserver.comMay 11, 2013 

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Grady Jeffreys stands in one of the fields on his 25 acres in southern Wake County. In 2006, he wrote a guidebook for fighting forced annexation, leading to a state law that requires a vote before a city takes up new land. Now Raleigh wants a slice of his land, and they're offering him what he considers a pittance, only $1,100. He says it's a slap at his activism, and the real estate office told him, "I know who you are. I've got your book on my desk."

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com Buy Photo

— Seven years ago, Grady Jeffreys published a Raleigh-based manifesto for resisting City Hall – a bright yellow paperback with a fist on its cover.

He gave it this rally-cry title: “Fighting Annexation: How to Protect Your Property Rights Against Municipal Tyranny.” The book got handed out among state legislators, and many activists now credit Jeffreys with inspiring their movement to stop cities from adding land without residents’ say-so.

But today, Jeffreys, 78, finds himself in his own local government quarrel.

Raleigh wants to acquire about 12,000 square feet of his property on Auburn-Knightdale Road along the Neuse River, much of it for a sewer easement. But they’ve offered him what he considers a bargain-basement price: $1,100 – about $24,000 too low, to Jeffreys’ thinking.

He considers it not only an insult but revenge for having written an anti-annexation guidebook.

“This is a punitive effort to slap me on the wrist,” he said. “Or maybe the behind.”

Land value is difficult to compare because of the variables of size and location. Of the 2,300 miles of sanitary sewer lines in Raleigh’s system, about 930 miles are located on private property in easements, according to the city’s website.

Raleigh’s Real Estate Service Manager Gregg Pollard wouldn’t comment on the negotiations with Jeffreys except to say that they’re ongoing and based on an independent analysis.

Former City Manager Russell Allen said the city uses only trusted appraisers when acquiring easements, and only when the land meets a public need. It’s rare the city and the owner can’t come to an agreement.

“We acquire easements all the time,” Allen said. “Most all of them are settled.”

But Jeffreys offers two bits of evidence to support his conspiracy theory.

One, he says, he spoke to Susan Mullins in the city’s real estate division during negotiations, and she told him, “I know who you are. I’ve got your book on my desk.”

Mullins did not return a call seeking comment, and Pollard said the city could not speak to its conversations about Jeffrey’s property.

Two, Jeffreys has prior dealings with the city that turned out much more favorably.

About five years ago, Raleigh settled with Jeffreys for another piece of his land on Rock Quarry Road, paying $12,000 for about 8,000 square feet. That deal included compensation for some damage done to Jeffrey’s property, but it did involve more money for less land.

“It’s a steal for them,” Jeffreys said. “They sent me a letter along with two copies of the deed, like it was an accomplished fact. They outlined numerous benefits for the city, but not for me.”

In 2011, the Legislature changed the state’s 1959 annexation law by stopping a forced annexation if 60 percent of the affected residents sign a petition.

Opponents statewide had argued for years that forcing residents to join a city or town against their wishes is undemocratic, and several of the most influential groups described Jeffreys’ work as a handbook for resistance.

“He was the pioneer,” said Doug Aitken, president of the Fair Annexation Coalition. “I would say he was a big instigator of the entire movement. The book lays out a framework for how to change the law.”

Catherine Heath, director of StopNCAnnexation, said Jeffrey’s book was widely distributed during the push to change annexation laws, especially among legislators. Given his notoriety, she said, it’s understandable that he would feel a cold shoulder from the cities affected by his work.

“I would give it some validity,” she said. “It’s quite possible.”

Jeffreys admits to harboring ill feelings toward municipal expansion going back decades. His father’s farm along Walnut Creek was sometimes polluted by city sewage in the early 1960s, he said, and when his father complained, Raleigh officials threatened to take him to federal court over trees that had fallen into the creek from his land.

“He died without being able to settle,” Jeffreys said.

But he says the land deal along the Neuse, which involves moving a sewer main, is just about fair value. The city is most interested in working in the area, he said, because of the newly-opened Neuse River greenway that extends south from Falls Lake.

He counter-offered with $25,000.

Jeffreys’ attorney, Stan Abrams in Wilson, who specializes in eminent domain cases, was reluctant to list any kind of standard dollar value for land used for easements. But he said the city should consider not only what’s on Jeffreys’ property, but also the land’s lost value after the work is finished.

One acre equals 43,560 feet, making the strip of land Jeffreys would lose to the easement slightly larger than a quarter-acre. A scan through Landwatch.com, which tracks undeveloped land for sale, shows a quarter-acre lot in nearby Wendell selling for $25,000. In Fuquay-Varina, a .19-acre lot has an asking price of $20,000.

Jeffreys said the city has also declined to take any liability for the land or responsibility for odors.

But he says he’s had a hand in causing Raleigh problems, and he isn’t afraid to point out a few more.

Shaffer: 919-829-4818

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