Laurel County, London oppose Corbin annexation bill

“These are Laurel County businesses and Laurel County residents, and they don’t want to be a part of Corbin.”

That’s the main factor cited by Judge-Executive David Westerfield Thursday, February 25th after the Laurel County Fiscal Court unanimously expressed its opposition to a proposed Senate bill that will allow Corbin to annex into Laurel County.

Under current state law, Corbin cannot annex into a third county, but a bill filed Wednesday by Senate President Robert Stivers will give Corbin the ability to annex the hotly-contested Exit 29 area of southern Laurel County.Stivers has tried on several occasions to advance this targeted legislation to help Corbin, but he has run into opposition from other city and counties who will be affected by the law’s provisions.

“Other city and counties across the state don’t want this either,” Westerfield said.

London Mayor Troy Rudder said the proposed bill affects other locations, not just London and Laurel County.

“We’ve already talked to some of them to let know it’s come up again,” he said. “It’s the same bill he’s tried to get passed in a number of sessions. It wasn’t unexpected, and neither was the timing. We’ve been waiting for him to do this.”

The Mayor said he’s been encouraging locations adversely affected by the bill to work through their legislators to get the bill defeated. At its regular meeting Thursday, the fiscal court expressed unanimous opposition to Stivers’ Senate Bill 274. Westerfield worked the phones all morning to let elected officials and state government leaders know Laurel County’s stance on the bill.

“The people I’ve talked to down there tell me they want to be a part of London and Laurel County, not Corbin,” he said. “We try to work with Corbin but we can’t go against the wishes of the people, and we can’t afford to give up the tax base that we count on.”

The Exit 29 area has a high traffic count because it intersects two major highways. But it is underdeveloped because restaurants and retail businesses want access to city services, such as the ability to sell alcohol. Corbin Utility Commission provides water and sewer to the area. But attempts by Corbin to annex property in Laurel County have been thwarted by the state law Stivers wants to change, as well as opposition from businesses and residents.

Economic prospects for the area improved dramatically at the end of December when the City of London approved a request by several property owners at Exit 29 to voluntarily annex their tracts of land. The annexation is in the final stages.

“It’s been passed and published, and we’re just waiting for final approval from the secretary of state,” Rudder said.

With London stepping up to facilitate development, owners of a 30-acre tract next to I-75 began clearing the property and are negotiating with several restaurants and retail establishments, officials said.

“The area has been stagnant for decades,” said Paula Thompson with the London-Laurel Co. Economic Development Authority. “The owners down there have requested to be annexed so they can develop their property. You’ve got restaurants, truck stops and box stores at that exit who have an interest in being a part of the city. They support the annexation by London.”So does the Laurel County judge executive.

“We have a great relationship with the City of London,” Westerfield said. “I’m in favor of their annexation so we can continue this relationship with London, and do what’s best for the people in that area.”

The City of Corbin filed suit against London’s annexation effort, but did not seek an injunction. The case is pending in Laurel Circuit Court.Laurel County officials were unsure Thursday of how the lawsuit, and Stivers’ latest attempt to help Corbin, will affect the recent momentum for Exit 29.

“The area is very blighted, but it can be attractive to other businesses, retail, and industrial,” Thompson said. “It’s a tremendous opportunity for economic development. We’ve finally been able to make progress, and I hate to see it thrown back into uncertainty again.”