Soucek targets Boone ETJ again
by Anna Oakes
State Sen. Dan Soucek of Boone on Wednesday filed Senate Bill 865, "an act providing that the town of Boone shall not exercise the powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction."
The legislation was referred to the Senate Committee on State and Local Government on Thursday.
The bill, if passed, would take effect Jan. 1, 2015. 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 since 1983. 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 action is a repeat of local legislation filed by Soucek, a Republican, during the 2012 short session, which passed the N.C. Senate but failed to gain approval in the House. As he did two years ago, Soucek said he introduced the bill to stand up for private property rights, maintaining that ETJ residents are subject to "regulation without representation."
"Philosophically I still believe it's the right thing to do," Soucek said.
In 2012, House representatives argued a bill affecting Boone's ETJ should be delayed until the broader issue of ETJ authority and state municipalities could be studied further. But a bill authorizing a study committee did not pass before the session adjourned. In 2013, a bill abolishing ETJ powers statewide did not advance in the House.
Soucek said that the town of Boone "is such an egregious violator" that he felt action needed to be taken now instead of waiting for a statewide study.
"The bottom line is that the town of Boone is not the appropriate level of government to deal with regulatory issues outside their borders, and the bill restores the fundamental rights of property owners in these areas," Soucek said in a statement issued Wednesday.
In his statement, Soucek said a "vast majority of property owners support this legislation," an assertion he said was based on his conversations with residents over the past two years. Soucek said he has spoken with "dozens and dozens" of citizens about the issue since 2012.
Boone Mayor Andy Ball said town leaders were disappointed to see the bill filed. Ball said Soucek did not make Boone leaders aware of his intentions to file the bill this year.
"It's clear to us that we're being targeted with this bill," said Ball. "Boone should have the same rights as any other city in North Carolina to manage its growth."
Soucek said in his statement that ETJs were enacted when people believed "the indefinite growth of cities was inevitable."
"The town of Boone, however, has maintained ETJs around its borders for decades with no efforts toward annexation," Soucek said in the Wednesday statement.
Speaking Thursday, Soucek pointed to research by UNC-Chapel Hill professor David W. Owens titled "The North Carolina Experience with Municipal Extraterritorial Planning Jurisdiction" as a source for understanding the history of ETJ authority in the state.
"The original intent of it was to create a temporary status in order for annexation to occur -- it wasn't designed to control sprawl, viewshed or quality of life," Soucek said. (The town is) using it for a purpose for which it was not designed. Property owners feel helpless for decades."
Ball countered that Boone has grown through voluntary annexations but that "the town doesn't go out and forcibly annex anyone." He noted that the Republican-led legislature has enacted laws in recent years making it more difficult for towns to annex.
"I seriously doubt that that's a genuine statement that Mr. Soucek would be in favor of annexation," he said.
"He's making my argument (for me)," Soucek said in response to Ball's statement. "Now that forced annexation isn't legal, ETJ no longer serves its purpose at all."
"I'm not opposed to the town of Boone expanding or annexing when a community is interested in it ... when people agree it is in their mutual best interest," Soucek added.
Soucek said he has met with residents of ETJ neighborhoods such as Seven Oaks and Sunny Knoll Acres and has listened to their desires for protections against some types of development. He said Watauga County has an "expansive" high impact land use ordinance that addresses such 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."