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This map depicts Boone's area of extraterritorial jurisdiction in purple.

Originally published: 2013-02-12 17:28:14
Last modified: 2013-02-12 18:54:50

ETJ targeted - this time, statewide

by Anna Oakes

Less than a year after state Sen. Dan Soucek tried but failed to achieve passage of legislation wiping out Boone's extraterritorial jurisdiction authority, a bill filed last week would give voters the option to abolish ETJ statewide.

House Bill 79, introduced Feb. 6, would put a state constitutional amendment before North Carolina voters that, if approved, would ban municipal ETJ powers and increase the percentage of votes needed to approve involuntary annexations from a simple majority to two-thirds.

As the bill currently reads, the ballot question would ask citizens to vote "for" or "against" a "constitutional amendment requiring municipal annexations not requested by the property owners to be approved by a two-thirds vote of the voters in the area to be annexed, and prohibiting municipalities from exercising jurisdiction outside their borders."

Reps. Larry Pittman of Concord and Jon Hardister of Greensboro, primary sponsors of the bill, were not available for questions as of presstime Tuesday. Pittman sent an email indicating he will reply to questions when time allows.

The League of Municipalities, a lobbying organization for the state's cities and towns, said in a legislative update Feb. 8 that it will "vigorously oppose" House Bill 79.

An ETJ, authorized by the state since 1959, 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 one mile outside town limits since 1983. ETJ residents cannot vote in town elections, do not pay town taxes and do not receive most town services, but residents of the ETJ serve on the town's Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission. Some ETJ properties receive water service from the town.

Paul Meyer, director of governmental affairs for the League, said the elimination of ETJ areas would be a detriment to consistent economic development and would create a "no man's land" of unregulated territory adjacent to urban areas.

"It would be the largest rezoning in the history of the state," Meyer said, and it would leave some counties with "significant unfunded mandates for conducting planning practices in what were previously city-regulated areas."

Last year, Soucek's Senate Bill 949 would have abolished the town of Boone's ETJ powers. Soucek said Boone abused its ETJ powers by including areas that can never feasibly be annexed, putting them in "an indefinite limbo of regulation." The bill passed the Senate but died in a House committee.

The Republican-led General Assembly passed significant annexation reforms in 2011 and 2012. House Bill 925, approved last year, requires a voter referendum on forced annexation, with a simple majority required to approve or defeat it.

In addition to inscribing the voter requirement in the N.C. Constitution -- which "would needlessly tie the hands of future legislators wishing to make changes to the annexation statutes," the League said -- House Bill 79's language increases the voter approval necessary for involuntary annexations from a simple majority to two-thirds.

"We spent a lot of time over the last biennium on reforming the annexation laws. Ultimately those annexation decisions are now in the hands of people living in those areas," said Meyer, who called the proposed amendment "duplicative and not needed."

Calls and emails to Soucek and Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson asking about their opinions of the bill were not returned as of presstime. Watauga Democrat will include their responses in a future article.