The long-debated area off Interstate 75 on Exit 29 came one step closer to being a part of the City of London, as London City Council members approved the second reading of the "Intent to Annex" in a special-called meeting on Thursday evening.
The proposal for the city to annex into the southern part of the county came during another special-called meeting of the London city government last month, with the issue passing unanimously.
The properties in question are the Exit 29 property along I-75 in southern Laurel County and another section closer to London near CHI Saint Joseph London.
London City Attorney Larry Bryson read the two "Intent to Annex" ordinances, noting that the property owners of both parcels had voluntarily requested the annexation and two letters were submitted into evidence from the property owners requesting to be annexed into the City of London.
The first property is owned by Elmo Greer Inc. and Elmo Greer LLC and is along Ky. 192 and Esquire Lane. The second property is in southern Laurel County and owned by G&M Oil Company, Inc.
As the reading of the second ordinance began, Corbin Mayor Suzie Razmus stood and made her objection to the southern Laurel annexation proposal.
"I would like it to be noted that I am here to formally object," Razmus said as Bryson began and continued reading the ordinance.
Razmus and Corbin leaders have stated that the City of Corbin had supplied the infrastructure on that property for water and sewer - approximately $40 million. However, Razmus was not recognized during the special-called meeting and was not permitted to speak as London Mayor Troy Rudder had told her it was a special-called meeting and there were no public comments allowed on the agenda.
Although the businesses along that stretch of roadway list a Corbin mailing address, the property is actually in the southern section of Laurel County. Corbin cannot annex into that area as the city of Corbin is already extended into Whitley and Knox counties and current law states that a city cannot be located into three counties.
Although the current infrastructure for the properties adjoining Exit 29 includes Kentucky Utilities, Delta Gas and a private well, the City of Corbin says the water and sewer lines are all provided by the City of Corbin. The City of London states "City Council is aware of no evidence to indicate utility infrastructure owned by another city is in the territory proposed for annexation," according to the ordinances.
However, the City of London also includes a statement in the ordinances declaring the various parts of the ordinances severable. "If any section, clause, sentence, or phrase of this Intent to Annex Ordinance is held to be invalid or unconstitutional by any court of competent jurisdiction, then said holding shall not affect the validity of the ordinance as a whole, or any portion thereof other than the section so declared to be unconstitutional or invalid."
The proposed areas of annexation include the interstate, KY 770 to the bridge over Laurel River to the west and along West Cumberland Gap Parkway (also known as US 25-E) to the intersection of US 25-South, also known locally as "Malfunction Junction."
The annexation would allow any businesses whose property touches the roadways named above to apply for voluntary annexation into the City of London.
The benefits of the annexation would allow for development in a now-vacant truck stop area with a paved parking lot. It would also allow businesses annexed into the city of London to apply to serve and/or sell alcohol - which is still prohibited outside London and Corbin city limits.
After the first reading of the proposed annexation, the City of Corbin hired an attorney to fight the proposal. The second reading of the "Intent to Annex" was also met with a letter from attorney Patrick Hughes with Dressman Benzinger LaVelle law firm in Louisville, objecting to the annexation. In that letter, Hughes said that the City of London had not provided proper notice to the City of Corbin regarding the annexation that involves the infrastructure provided by Corbin. It also states that London officials did not provide adequate notice of either meeting dealing with the annexation, citing KRS 81A.420 that requires a 14-day notice. Hughes referred to the annexation along I-75 as "impermissible corridor annexation."
"Beyond the City of London's failure to notify the City of Corbin of its intent to annex Tract 1 (the G&M Oil company property), the proposed annexation of Tract 1 remains improper because the exercise is a classic example of impermissible corridor annexation. Additionally, while the owner of Tract 2 has requested the annexation, the fact remains that Tract 2 is not adjacent or contiguous to the City of London's boundaries which existed at the time the City initiated annexation proceedings on August 12,2020. Taken together, it appears the proposed annexation is improper."
Although Razmus was not permitted to speak, she did have a list of objections to the annexation on hand in paper format that she provided to city council members and media. Those included the ownership of the City of Corbin for the water and sewer services and the failure of the City of London to notify Corbin leaders of their intent, pointing out the KRS section requiring the 14-day notice.
"The statute further provides that where a City owning utilities within a territory objects to the annexation, the City proposing the annexation may not proceed," Razmus's document states. "As the Mayor of Corbin, I respectfully request that this body decline to proceed with a second reading of City of London ordinance 2020-10 as the City of Corbin has not been properly notified. I am open to discussing this matter further with the City of London but do request that the City reconsider its course of action at this time."
Razmus and City Manager Marlon Sams, who was also on hand at Thursday's meeting, also sent letters to business owners along the proposed annexation area along Exit 29, KY 770 and US 25-E, asking those businesses to consider annexing into the Corbin city limits. Razmus once proposed that with Corbin's financial investment in water and sewer the two cities could work together by splitting the county's occupational tax 50-50, with Laurel County keeping taxes from the existing businesses and the split coming from any new businesses locating in the area.
After the meeting Razmus said it was very disappointing that they were not permitted to address the council, but she would let her written statement speak for itself.
"It's very disappointing, we're all neighbors here," she said.
Mayor Rudder told The Sentinel-Echo that the two ordinances for annexation were spurred by the request to be annexed into the City of London by the Elmo Greer Inc., Elmo Greer LLC and G&M Oil Company.
Rudder said "we hope for the development of that area and with city services, we hope it attracts a lot of businesses."
Editor Erin Cox contributed to this story.