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COA: annexed parcels must touch each other

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The Indiana Court of Appeals reaffirmed today that Indiana requires that an annexation ordinance applies only to solid, unbroken areas of land. This issue arose in an annexation dispute between two northern Indiana towns.

In Town of Dyer, Lake County, Ind. v. Town of St. John, Ind., et al., No. 45A03-0908-CV-360, Dyer appealed the dismissal of its amended complaint for declaratory judgment and a permanent injunction preventing St. John from annexing land Dyer intended to annex.

Dyer introduced an ordinance in 2008 to annex three separate parcels of land that adjoined the town's existing boundaries, but didn't adjoin each other. Dyer didn't act on the ordinance and several months later, at the encouragement of landowners, St. John began annexing some of the land proposed in the Dyer ordinances.

Dyer tried to prevent the annexation, but the trial court dismissed its complaint and amended complaint because Dyer's annexation attempt was void and unenforceable.

Dyer's annexation ordinance was invalid because it contained three non-adjacent parcels, the Court of Appeals concluded. The judges found the statutory definition of contiguous is ambiguous with respect to whether all of the land a municipality wants to annex in a single ordinance must form a uniform, undivided body.

Using caselaw on the matter, the appellate judges believed it still stood that the land a municipality wants to annex should consist of one uniform body and not separate pieces of land.

"Since 1864, there has been an understanding that all of the tracts of land a municipality seeks to annex must be contiguous to each other," wrote Judge Michael Barnes. "If the legislature had wanted to allow the annexation of multiple, non-adjacent parcels of land in a single annexation ordinance, which would appear to contravene over a century of case law, it could have expressly drafted the new definition of contiguity in 1981 to clearly say so."

Allowing a municipality to simultaneously annex disjointed parcels of land in one ordinance would violate the basic principles behind the contiguity requirement, such as impacting the ability to provide city services.

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