UPDATE: House committee rejects ETJ bill
by Anna Oakes
The N.C. House Committee on Government on Monday did not approve a favorable report on Senate Bill 865, meaning the bill to abolish Boone's extraterritorial jurisdiction did not advance to the full House floor for a vote.
Following approximately 30 minutes of debate, the committee voted 12-15 on a motion to give the local bill a favorable report. Committee members generally voted along party lines with Republicans favoring the bill and Democrats opposing, but three Republicans joined in voting against the bill while another abstained. Several committee members were absent.
Following the committee meeting, Rep. Jonathan Jordan of Jefferson said S865 is not dead and that it will remain in the House Committee on Government. Jordan said the committee could "possibly" consider the bill again.
UPDATE: At 11:51 a.m. Tuesday, the House Committee on Government announced that S865 has been added to the committee's agenda for a meeting at 1 p.m. Tuesday.
Jordan and Rep. Edgar V. Starnes of Hickory were among those who spoke to the committee about the bill, with Jordan supporting the bill as a member of the local delegation and Starnes, a fellow Republican, speaking against it.
"Yes, as Republicans we do believe in property rights ... but Boone is a unique town with a unique situation in two regards," Starnes said, because it is a college town and a resort area. The legislator said he has experienced the town's ETJ regulations firsthand because he owns a home in the Boone ETJ.
Starnes said he felt the Boone Town Council, like many governmental bodies, made good and bad decisions, but "for the most part, their ordinances make sense. (The town) just tries to have orderly development so that residential neighborhoods are protected."
"I think it sets a dangerous precedent," Starnes concluded. "This would be the only time in the history of North Carolina that we have removed a town's ETJ authority."
Jeff Templeton -- an ETJ resident, owner of Templeton Tours and son of local developer Phil Templeton -- spoke to the committee in support of the bill. Templeton is an ETJ representative on the town of Boone's Planning Commission.
Templeton said that most of the Boone town limits lies in the valley floor and that most of the ETJ is on hillsides.
"For that reason, Boone is not planning to do an expansion (of corporate limits); it's too expensive to push water up a hill," Templeton said. "The citizens of the ETJ are in a permanent limbo, with no hope of ever getting a right to vote or becoming part of town."
Town regulations restricting development in the town's viewshed therefore disproportionately affect ETJ residents, he added. Templeton also said the town does not fairly consider the input of ETJ residents.
"Our town council routinely ignores the recommendations of the town planning board," he said. "My vote is meaningless as an ETJ planning board member."
An ETJ 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. 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 filed a similar bill two years ago. The bill passed the N.C. Senate -- as it did this year on June 12 -- but ultimately died in a House committee, with House representatives at that time arguing a bill affecting Boone's ETJ should be delayed until the broader issue of ETJ authority could be studied statewide.
Soucek cited research by University of North Carolina School of Government professor David W. Owens and argued that the original intent in authorizing ETJs was to "create a temporary status in order for annexation to occur" and not to control sprawl, viewshed and quality of life in areas where the town has no plans to expand in the near future.
"That's why it's clear abuse," Soucek said earlier this year. Asked by a committee member on Monday if the Boone Town Council opposed the bill, Soucek responded, "Of course they're going to be against you taking away their tyrannical power."
State law, however, states only that the areas to be included in ETJs must be "based upon existing or projected urban development and areas of critical concern to the city, as evidenced by officially adopted plans for its development." But in a 1958 report, the Municipal Government Study Commission said that "municipalities have a special interest in the areas immediately adjacent to their limits. These areas, in the normal course of events, will at some time be annexed to the city, bringing with them any problems growing out of chaotic and disorganized development."
ETJs were authorized statewide the following year, 1959.
"While there is no mandatory relationship between annexation and extraterritorial jurisdiction, it is common for a city to base its extraterritorial jurisdiction on anticipated future annexation of these areas," Owens wrote in May 2014. A 2005 School of Government study found that two-thirds of the N.C. municipalities with ETJs reported that these areas are likely to be annexed.
Jordan also cited a School of Government document in speaking to the committee on Monday, noting that ETJs are "areas that are expected to come within the corporate limits in the near future."
"They use it as control, and that is all," Jordan said about Boone's ETJ. "Remove it, and give these citizens currently under regulation without any representation a voice."
The language cited by Jordan appears to come directly from the Wake County Land Use Plan, which stipulates that municipal ETJ extensions within the county should only be granted for areas anticipated to be annexed within 10 years.
Boone Mayor Andy Ball spoke to the committee and argued that Boone is among nearly 200 cities in the state that exercise ETJ authority, which he added is especially important in a county with no zoning.
"No points have been made about what is different in Boone than other parts of the state," Ball said. "We're asking for more time to work on this issue."