Annexation – A Best Practice Guide


 A Best Practice Guide

 Last Updated-2020.04.15

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Introduction to Annexation

Annexation is the formal process of incorporating additional property, previously part of unincorporated county, into a municipality’s jurisdictional boundaries.  The incorporation of this property into the existing municipality makes the new territory subject to the municipality’s various plans, codes and ordinances.

Before any annexation may occur, a municipality must first adopt an annexation policy plan. An annexation policy plan is established by the planning commission who recommends approval to the city council after both a public meeting and public hearing are held.  The city council then formally adopts the plan after holding an additional public hearing on the matter.

In the state of Utah, an annexation policy plan must include:

  • A map of the expansion area which may include territory located outside the county in which the municipality is located;
  • A statement of the specific criteria that will guide the municipality’s decision whether or not to grant future annexation petitions, addressing matters relevant to those criteria including:
    • The character of the community;
    • The need for municipal services in developed and undeveloped unincorporated areas;
    • The municipality’s plans for extension of municipal services;
    • How the services will be financed;
    • An estimate of the tax consequences to residents both currently within the municipal boundaries and in the expansion area; and
    • The interests of all affected entities.
  • Justification for excluding from the expansion area, any area containing urban development within ½ mile of the municipality’s boundary; and
  • A statement addressing any comments made by affected entities at or within ten days after the public meeting.

Additionally, when developing, considering, and adopting an annexation policy plan the state code also requires municipalities to:

  • Attempt to avoid gaps between or overlaps with the expansion areas of other municipalities;
  • Consider population growth projections for the municipality and adjoining area for the next twenty years;
  • Consider current and projected costs of infrastructure, urban services, and public facilities necessary to facilitate full development of the area within the municipality, and to expand the infrastructure, services, and facilities into the area being considered for inclusion to the expansion area;
  • Consider in conjunction with the municipality’s general plan, the need over the next twenty years for additional land suitable for residential, commercial, and industrial development; and
  • Consider the reasons for including agricultural lands, forests, recreational areas, and wildlife management areas in the municipality.

In Utah, property owners wishing to annex their property into a municipality initiate the process via a petition.  Municipalities typically only initiate the process themselves when attempting to annex peninsula or island remnants.  Once an annexation petition is submitted to the municipality’s clerk / recorder the municipality’s legislative body will accept or deny the petition at its next scheduled meeting that is at least fourteen days after the petition filing date.  It is important to note that acceptance of the petition does not guarantee approval, rather only means that the petition can move forward with the next steps of the annexation process.  

Once an annexation petition has been accepted, the municipality’s clerk / recorder then reviews the petition to determine if it complies with state requirements.  If so, the petition is then certified, and notice is given to affected entities and a protest period begins.  After the protest period, the municipality’s legislative body holds a public hearing to consider approving the annexation petition through adoption of an ordinance.  If an annexation petition is successfully approved by the legislative body, within thirty days of approving the annexation, the information is submitted to the lieutenant governor who will then issue a certificate of annexation.  The final step of the process includes submitting the certificate of annexation, plat map, and copy of approving ordinance to the country recorder in which the municipality resides for recordation.                                     

Things to Consider

  • Pursuant to §10-2-401.5 of Utah State Code, a municipality may not annex an unincorporated area located within a specified county unless the municipality has adopted an annexation policy consistent with the current requirements of state code.
  • It is also important to note that §10-9a-506 of Utah State Code requires that the legislative body of each municipality assign a land use zone or a variety thereof to territory annexed to the municipality at the time the territory is annexed.  If the legislative body fails to assign a land use zone at the time the territory is annexed, the state requires that all land uses within the annexed territory be compatible with surrounding uses within the municipality.

Best Practice Recommendations. 

  • The process of annexing a property into a municipality can be complicated, and is typically a very statutorily-driven process. §10-2-4 of Utah State Code is where the current regulations concerning the annexation process can be located. It is important to remember the process outlined above is a generalization, and that there are different standards and requirements for counties of the first class (i.e. Salt Lake County) versus the rest of the counties located within the state, as well as differences between first / second class cities, and third / fourth / fifth class cities, towns, or metro townships.  If your community is currently undergoing the annexation process, or will be in the near future, be sure to double check and ensure the requirements you are following are correct for the size of the city, town, metro township, and county your community resides in. 
  • If a municipality desires their planning commission to review its annexation petitions, this process should take place prior to the legislative body’s public hearing to accept or deny the petition.  While Utah State Code does not require the participation of the planning commission, legislative bodies may find the commission’s recommendations insightful and valuable.