Soucek bill targets Boone's ETJ powers
by Anna Oakes
Senate Bill 949, introduced May 30 by state Sen. Dan Soucek, a Republican from Boone, would specifically revoke the town of Boone's ETJ powers.
Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson, a Democrat, said she is “shocked” and “disappointed” over Senate Bill 949. The Boone Town Council scheduled a special closed session meeting at 7 p.m. on Monday, June 4, in the Council Chambers to discuss the matter with the town attorney. A separate meeting is scheduled with the Water Study Committee at 5 p.m. that day to discuss future water allocations outside of town limits.
An ETJ, as authorized by Article 19 of General Statutes §160A, is a defined area in the county outside of incorporated town limits that are subject to the town's land use (zoning) regulations. Each of the town's zoning districts place specific restrictions on the way land can be used, including the types of property uses permitted.
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. The Boone Town Council accepts applications and selects two nominees for each vacant ETJ seat on the two boards, from which the Watauga County Board of Commissioners selects the appointee.
Senate Bill 949 reads, “An act providing that the town of Boone shall not exercise the powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction.” The bill was referred to the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on May 31.
“The biggest issue behind all this is the critical nature that property rights have in a free society,” Soucek said. “I talked to people in the ETJ, and they felt like their voice wasn't being heard.”
The first-term senator, who seeks re-election in November, said he filed the bill to look at what he called “clear abuses in the ETJ” and “to get Boone's attention because they weren't paying attention to people who had concerns.”
Soucek said it is unfair for the town to extend its ETJ to areas it cannot feasibly annex anytime soon because of the cost of extending such town services as water and sewer. This leaves property owners “in limbo indefinitely,” he said.
But Soucek also acknowledged municipalities' need for an ETJ: “The purpose of an ETJ is so that a town can manage itself well.” He cited the Seven Oaks neighborhood off of Roby Greene Road, which asked to be zoned in the town of Boone's ETJ to prevent the construction of an asphalt plant, as “an example of where ETJ was used and the people had a voice.”
He said he ultimately did not envision the bill eliminating Boone's ETJ altogether, but instead that it would give the town the ability “to manage itself but in a way not to overstep its bounds and infringe on property rights unnecessarily.”
“We don't want to throw out the baby with the bath water,” he said. “One of the good things about this is I have complete control over this bill. I'm not going to let this slide in an irresponsible way.”
Clawson said the bill, should it become law, would affect approximately 3,500 people.
“Should this bill become law, people who purchased their homes thinking they would be protected by zoning from land uses which might negatively affect them can no longer count on that protection, since any type of development will be possible anywhere,” Clawson said in a statement Friday.
Speaking by phone Friday, Clawson said she does not remember an instance of the state legislature singling out one town and revoking its ETJ authority.
“No. Never. I am shocked,” she said.
Clawson said Soucek requested a meeting with the town May 29.
Clawson, Town Manager Greg Young and Planning & Inspections Director Bill Bailey met with Soucek, and accompanying the senator were Republican Watauga County Board of Commissioners Chair Nathan Miller; Perry Yates, a Republican county commissioner candidate, 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.
“The town was discussing how important the ETJ is to us. Sen. Soucek was listening. I think that the group had concerns about their property in ETJ. I didn't have a clue that this local bill would go in. I was not told that,” Clawson said.
In 2006, in response to the large Villages at Meadowview complex that was erected above Walmart, the Boone Town Council enacted steep slope and viewshed regulations banning 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 developers who opposed the bill, including the Templeton family.
“These ordinances will be nullified if this bill is passed,” Clawson said. “The town will be unable to prevent high-density development on the mountains, which create Boone's spectacular backdrop.” Clawson urged citizens to contact their legislative leaders about the bill.
Currently, Soucek is the sole primary sponsor and Republican Sens. Ralph Hise of Spruce Pine and Don East of Pilot Mountain are co-sponsors.
According to campaign finance reports, the real estate sector, including the North Carolina Association of Realtors and the North Carolina Builders Association Build PAC, is one of Soucek's top financial backers in the 2012 cycle.