Senate OKs bill ending Boone ETJ
by Anna Oakes
The legislation now advances to the N.C. House of Representatives.
Referred to as a local bill rather than a public bill because it affects a specific area rather than the entire state, Senate Bill 949 would eliminate Boone's ETJ powers effective June 30, 2013. State Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone, a Republican, introduced the bill May 30.
An ETJ, authorized by the state since 1959, is a defined area in the county outside of city limits that is subject to the town's zoning regulations, including the type, density and location of land uses. Boone has exercised ETJ authority one mile outside town limits since 1983.
Senate Bill 949 was to be included among many local bills voted on by the Senate as a slate until Sen. Martin Nesbitt of Asheville, a Democrat, requested that the bill be voted on separately.
Asked to speak about his bill, Soucek said, "The town of Boone has clearly abused this (ETJ) authority." Soucek said the reason for ETJ powers is to allow municipalities to organize and manage themselves, but in Boone, "Many areas that can never be annexed are put in the ETJ in an indefinite limbo of regulation."
Nesbitt said he had heard objections and received a lot of letters against the bill from the town of Boone and members of Boone's ETJ.
Soucek said the ETJ residents opposed to the bill were members of the Seven Oaks subdivision, located off of Roby Greene Road. The effective date of June 30, 2013, was added to the bill in committee to address concerns of the Seven Oaks subdivision, which petitioned to become part of Boone's ETJ in the late 1990s, Soucek told the Senate.
"That one section of the ETJ is a minority of people," he said. "They do have concerns and that's why we're addressing it."
Sen. Josh Stein, a Democrat from Raleigh, said he was concerned about possible constitutional issues with the bill and questions over who would conduct inspections in the area formerly designated as Boone's ETJ should the bill be approved.
Republican Sen. Tom Apodaca of Hendersonville responded, first by stating, "Well, Watauga County is not one of my favorite places in the world because of Boone, but we won't get into that."
He asked Soucek, rhetorically, if Watauga County had a health department.
"Those responsibilities would go over to the county, am I correct?" he said, to which Soucek replied in the affirmative.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Democrat from Durham, called the bill "an extraordinary measure" and asked Soucek to provide specific examples of what he considered to be abuses by the town of Boone.
Soucek mentioned businesses that had trouble putting up adequate signage and property owners with "property that people like to look at."
Soucek's comment refers to Boone's steep slope and viewshed regulations enacted in 2006 that banned high-density development to protect areas in danger of slope failure and to preserve the scenic beauty of Boone's hillside areas. The regulations faced sharp criticism from area developers.
"We like the way something looks so we want to control someone's property," Soucek said about the town of Boone.
Sen. Jerry Tillman, a Republican from Archdale, called on senators to follow the Senate's custom of yielding to the local delegation on local bills. But Sen. Larry Bell from Clinton said he thought the bill could have implications for ETJ authority throughout the state.
ETJ residents cannot vote in town elections, do not pay town taxes and do not receive most town services (although some receive water and sewer services), but residents of the ETJ serve on Boone's Board of Adjustment and Planning Commission.