Boone ETJ in jeopardy
by Anna Oakes
The House Committee on Government is slated to consider S865 at 5 p.m. Monday, June 23, where Republican state Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone is expected to speak on the local bill he introduced that would abolish Boone's extraterritorial jurisdiction authority.
An ETJ is a defined area in the county outside of city limits that is subject to a city's zoning regulations, including the type, density and location of land uses. Boone has exercised ETJ authority since 1983, but ETJs have been authorized by state law since 1959.
Boone's ETJ extends about a mile outside of town limits. The area within town limits is approximately 6.2 square miles, while the ETJ area is about 7.2 square miles, according to the Boone Planning & Inspections Department.
ETJ residents cannot vote in town elections, do not pay town taxes and do not receive town services, but residents of the ETJ serve on the town's Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission.
Local bills require the support of both members of the local delegation -- the House and Senate representatives. Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson said he fully supports the bill and will attend the committee meeting Monday to answer questions if needed.
"It's an issue of control -- it's regulation without representation," said Jordan, echoing a phrase Soucek used to describe the ETJ. "The citizens in that area can't vote for the people that are controlling them."
Jordan said he "couldn't even begin to estimate" how many people have contacted him about the bill. Like Soucek, Jordan noted that residents seeking town regulatory protections can seek voluntary annexation by the town; "We support that," he said.
"There's really not a need for an ETJ anymore if a town's not going to expand," he said.
Boone Mayor Andy Ball and Boone Town Council members, who are all Democrats or progressives, have expressed vocal opposition to the bill, arguing that ETJs are an essential planning tool to prevent unrestricted development that would place strains on infrastructure.
"This is a planning tool to protect the health and safety of the community, to have compatible development," Councilwoman Lynne Mason said at the June 19 council meeting. Mason and other council members invited ETJ residents to provide feedback to them, noting that they have only heard support for ETJ protections.
"I haven't heard very much from people in the ETJ about their support of this (bill)," Councilwoman Jennifer Pena said. "I've only heard that people are against it."
Ball noted that according to the N.C. League of Municipalities, 187 communities in the state exercise ETJ authority.
"We are the only one that we know to have ETJ proposed to be eliminated," Ball said. "I'm not getting the reasoning from Sen. Soucek or Rep. Jordan on why it's Boone, what Boone is doing differently than other communities. I hate for it to be the normal reason, which is politics."
Ball said he and several council members plan to attend the House Committee on Government meeting on Monday, and the committee chairman has indicated that town representatives will be given the opportunity to speak.
Soucek filed a similar bill two years ago. The bill passed the N.C. Senate -- as it did this year on June 12 -- but ultimately died in a House committee, with House representatives at that time arguing a bill affecting Boone's ETJ should be delayed until the broader issue of ETJ authority and state municipalities could be studied further.
The bill has significant implications for neighborhoods such as Seven Oaks off of Roby Greene Road in Boone, which asked to be included in the town's ETJ years ago to prevent the construction of an asphalt plant.
Last year, Boone's ETJ regulations forced a concrete plant next to the Seven Oaks neighborhood to close as it was in the midst of changing ownership. Although the plant was built before the ETJ was created, the Boone Board of Adjustment ruled there was sufficient evidence the plant had been out of operation for at least six months, which caused it to lose its status as a grandfathered use in that zoning district.
Thirty-five-year Seven Oaks resident Sandy Everhart described the ETJ as "a godsend for us."
"It tries to keep some kind of control in a county that doesn't have zoning to protect the homeowners," Everhart said. "It didn't matter to us that we didn't have police protection, that we didn't have the other things associated."
Floyd Fuller, a Seven Oaks resident since 1980, said, "All kinds of businesses have wanted to come in. We live in a residential neighborhood, and we enjoy our peace and quiet. I just don't understand why Dan Soucek is taking it on himself to do away with ETJs when he knows perfectly well that we worked hard to get an ETJ." Fuller said he personally spoke with local representatives about the issue: "They listened, but I don't know if it does any good or not."
Both Fuller and Everhart indicated that they would be happy to be annexed by the town.
"I would love to be annexed," Everhart said. "We were told ... they could not because of the cost involved in it."
Watauga Democrat on Friday invited Facebook users to submit comments on the ETJ bill. Mary Ballard, a resident of the Raven Ridge neighborhood, said, "I appreciate the protections that living in the ETJ affords me. I am especially grateful for the zoning protections in the area."
Said Judi Scharns, "The limitations on development protect my homes from flooding. If development is allowed at the laxer county standards, flooding will become a huge issue for those of us along Flannery Fork Creek and Rocky Creek Road."
No commenters expressed support for the bill or opposition to Boone's ETJ. Soucek told Watauga Democrat last month that "a vast majority of property owners support this legislation," noting that he had spoken with "dozens and dozens" of citizens about the issue over the past two years. Prior to filing his Boone ETJ elimination bill in 2012, Soucek met with then-Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson over the issue, joined by Republican Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller; Perry Yates, then a Republican county commissioner candidate and contractor and owner of New River Building Supply; Keith Honeycutt, a former Republican county commissioner; Jeff Templeton, a Boone Planning Commission member, owner of Templeton Tours and member of a family of developers; Gary Knight; and Sam Adams.
Soucek told Watauga Democrat in May that although Watauga County does not have zoning regulations, its high impact land use ordinance addresses such development features as setbacks, vegetation and height.
"Just because there isn't countywide zoning doesn't mean ordinances don't exist or could be created," Soucek said. "It's not like the Wild West. The county can continue to adjust as necessary."