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This story has been updated from a previous version to include statements from Watauga County Commission Chairman Nathan Miller and additional information.

Originally published: 2014-06-25 16:48:31
Last modified: 2014-06-26 11:27:29

Boone loses ETJ with bill passage

by Anna Oakes

Republican Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone has succeeded in a two-year effort to revoke the Democratic-controlled town of Boone's authority to apply zoning regulations outside of town limits.


His bill, Senate Bill 865, received final approval by a vote of 65-47 in the N.C. House of Representatives on Wednesday, and because the local bill has now passed both houses of the General Assembly, it immediately becomes law. Boone will be stripped of its ETJ authority effective Jan. 1, 2015.


The bill's passage means the town of Boone will no longer have authority to apply its zoning regulations to an area in the county roughly one mile outside of town limits, a power it has exercised since 1983. Nearly 200 municipalities in the state exercise the same power, which has been authorized statewide since 1959.


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.


Soucek and Republican Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson claimed the town of Boone abused its ETJ powers because it holds areas outside of town in regulatory "limbo" with no future plans to annex those areas. Soucek filed a similar bill in 2012, but it failed to pass the House.


Boone Mayor Andy Ball on Tuesday said the town was "extremely disappointed" with the House actions and said town leaders were awaiting legal guidance on the implications of the law, including future decisions on town water extensions. He did not know if the town would take legal action against the state.


The loss of ETJ authority could also impact the town's ordinances that restrict development on steep slopes and in "viewshed" areas visible from main highways, which were enacted after the construction of the Villages of Meadowview apartment complex above Walmart.


Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chairman Nathan Miller, a Republican, on Thursday released a statement noting he and the other Republicans on the board applauded the bill's passage.


"The people of the ETJ have now been freed from the regulation without representation imposed on them since the 1980s," Miller said.


Miller said the commission will hold a public hearing in the coming weeks to hear from ETJ citizens and property owners about "ideas concerning some, if any, restrictions the citizens and real property owners wish imposed upon them by their elected officials."


In a last-ditch effort to oppose the bill on Wednesday, Republican Rep. C. Robert Brawley of Iredell County -- who was counted as voting for the bill on second reading Tuesday -- noted that legislators had received 24 emails opposing the bill compared with two in support of the bill. He read from one of the letters, which stated, "No one approached the residents who live inside the Boone ETJ, nor did they hold a public forum. This issue has been handled outside of Boone and without any notification."


But Republican Rep. Mike Hager, representing Burke and Rutherford counties, reminded legislators of the General Assembly's tradition of deferring to the local delegation on support for local bills. Both legislators representing Watauga County -- Soucek and Jordan -- supported the legislation.


Many cried foul when the bill reemerged in the House Committee on Government a day after the committee failed to pass a favorable report of the bill, which typically would have ended its advance through the House. But on a technicality upheld as legitimate by legislative staff, however, bill sponsors succeeded in returning the bill to committee consideration Tuesday because it had not received a separate vote as unfavorable.


It then passed the House committee 18-16 and, with a suspension of House rules, advanced to a full House vote the very same day.


Several people claimed the legislation would mark the first time the state has revoked ETJ authority from a city, but the General Assembly last year enacted a law removing ETJ authority from the city of Asheville. In that case, however, Buncombe County zoning ordinances were applied to areas formerly in the Asheville ETJ; Watauga County does not have a zoning ordinance.


Soucek and others said Watauga's high impact land use ordinance, however, could offer residents protections against negative development impacts. The county's ordinance applies to asphalt plants, electricity-generating facilities, propane or gasoline bulk storage facilities, chip mills, explosives manufacturing, chemical manufacturing, chemical storage facilities, fuel oil bulk storage facilities, electric substations, cement mixing facilities and commercial or industrial developments with aggregate building footprints of 50,000 square feet or greater.