One year ago, voters in unincorporated King County rejected a proposal to join Federal Way through annexation.

One year ago, voters in unincorporated King County rejected a proposal to join Federal Way through annexation.

Only 2,500 out of nearly 10,400 eligible voters showed up at the polls last August; 65 percent of those people said no.

Despite the promise of improved municipal services such as law enforcement, the vocal opposition cited a number of reasons for staying unincorporated, even if little else would have changed. Some voters saw flaws in Federal Way’s code enforcement. Others saw a threat to their current quality of life from possible development, sort of a “rural vs. urban” scenario. In addition, many residents felt they lacked enough information about the proposal.

The annexation’s failure ultimately reflected the independent spirit of unincorporated residents. After all, it wasn’t their idea. The state and county offered Federal Way incentives for annexing the 4,400-acre area east of Interstate 5, a move that would add almost 20,000 residents to the city’s population.

Another attempt at annexation seems inevitable. The county continues to cut public services amid a budget crisis. The county also set a goal of seeing the remaining 10 unincorporated areas annexed into a city by 2012.

Federal Way has tried before to expand its boundaries without success. A few years ago, Federal Way proposed an annexation of the Browns Point and Dash Point communities in unincorporated Pierce County. Tacoma was pushing to annex those areas, which directly affect traffic in Federal Way. Although joining Federal Way meant lower taxes, the fierce independence of Dash Point and Browns Point residents grounded the idea.

The door is still open. By state law, any citizen or jurisdiction can petition for annexation to Federal Way. However, the process is easier said than done.

Some residents of Northeast Tacoma see Federal Way as both an asset and ally. Because of their isolation from Tacoma proper, most Northeast Tacoma residents shop in Federal Way as well as commute through the city. In recent months, residents opposing an 860-home development on the North Shore Golf Course have called on Federal Way officials to bolster their fight.

Several Northeast Tacoma residents have said it makes sense for their community to join Federal Way. The port separates Northeast Tacoma from the “mainland,” and teens attend Stadium High School on the other side of the water. During the emotional and legal tussle over a development that threatens quality of life, some Northeast Tacoma residents feel as though Tacoma treats them like unwanted stepchildren, albeit well-to-do stepchildren. Northeast Tacoma represents one of the more affluent areas of Tacoma. Even if Northeast Tacoma residents gathered enough signatures via petition, such an action would require a city-wide vote for Tacoma to de-annex the area. That will never happen.

Northeast Tacoma and Federal Way must settle for sharing a border rather than moving in together. On the contrary, unincorporated King County residents will continue to resist joining Federal Way as if the union were an arranged marriage.

When that marriage happens, expect a good share of unincorporated residents to shun the wedding vows.

Mirror editor Andy Hobbs: