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Commissioners Adopt Residential & Scenic Byway Buffer for Category 1 Uses, To Look Next At All High Impact Land Uses

Maymead Area Manager Mary Katherine Harbin shows pictures of her kids growing up around asphalt plants and paving operations to prove a point that asphalt plants are safe at Tuesday’s commissioners meeting. Photo by Jesse Wood

By Jesse Wood

After three hours in open session on Tuesday morning, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners went in and out of closed session two times to address amendments to the county’s High Impact Land Use Ordinance, which regulates asphalt plants and other uses.

During the meeting, the commissioners held a public hearing, where representatives of Maymead Inc., which is attempting to build and operate an asphalt plant off of the scenic byway U.S. 421 in Deep, and High Country W.A.T.C.H., an organization of community members opposing the asphalt plant, were allotted 20 minutes to speak. In all, more than 20 people signed up to speak, with all but three or four speaking out against asphalt plants.

After exiting closed session the first time, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners voted to adopt the Watauga Count Planning Board’s recommendations to amend the High Impact Land Use Ordinance, according to board clerk Anita Fogleman.

Those recommendations were as follows:

  • 750-foot buffer between residential property lines and asphalt plants, cement mixing facilities and rock quarries (known as Category 1 uses in the ordinance)
  • 1,500 buffer between a scenic byway and Category 1 uses

The commissioners directed the Watauga County Planning Board to look at amending the ordinance last year because of state legislation taking away the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) and countywide zoning didn’t exist. (Currently, the Town of Boone still has authority of the ETJ, while the courts weigh in on the issue.)

While the county previously had a 1,500-foot buffer for educational facilities, nursing homes, religious facilities and childcare facilities, it didn’t have a residential buffer. This was a major concern of citizens. The planning board recommended a 500-foot buffer between residential dwellings (not residential property lines) and Category 1 uses – but this was before it was announced that two companies were proposing asphalt plants in the county.

After the uproar from citizens, the commissioners enacted a brief moratorium on asphalt plants and directed the planning board to relook at the ordinance. They came back with a 750-foot buffer from property lines, which is what the commissioners passed on Tuesday.

Concerned citizens were requesting a 1,500-foot buffer from residential property lines, but nonetheless seemed somewhat pleased at the civic engagement of the community and the compromise that the commissioners agreed to after listening to all of the comments.

Following the meeting, High Country W.A.T.C.H. posted on Facebook:

“Thank you to all who attended and participated in this process. We are making a difference. The 750-foot setback from property lines and 1,500 foot setback from the scenic byways is a tremendous first step! We are very grateful for the show of support at this level from our Board of Commissioners. High Country Watch asked for: a 1,500 foot setback from residential property lines, we asked that the moratorium on HILU projects be extended to one year, and that a public hearing be required prior to permitting all HILU projects. We will continue work with our commissioners to insure the SMART development of our county. This step is a beginning response that we can say only happened because of the efforts of many in our community. Thank you.”

Board Clerk Anita Fogleman said that the board again went into closed session. After exiting, Fogleman said that the board announced that it will hold a public hearing on July 21 to consider a moratorium (60 days at the maximum) to address Category 2 and 3 sections of the ordinance.

On Tuesday, citizens expressed concerns that these other uses, such as a chemical manufacturing company, could move in next door if not regulated with a residential property line buffer. These are the uses under those two categories:

Category 2: Automotive Graveyards, Propane or Gasoline Bulk Storage Facilities, Chemical Manufacturing, Chemical Storage Facilities, Chip Mills, Electricity Generating Facilities(excluding Wind and Solar Power Farms), Explosives Manufacturing, Junk/Scrap Yards.

Category 3: Fuel Oil Bulk Storage Facilities, Electric Substations, Commercial/Industrial Development with aggregate building footprint 50,000 square feet or greater, Recycling Facilities and Solar Power Farms. (Wind Power Farms are regulated under separate county ordinance.)

Meanwhile, the battle over asphalt plants in Watauga County isn’t over. Last month, Watauga County denied a permit on Rainbow Trail Road because of the 1,500-foot educational facility buffer and revoked Maymead’s permit for a plant off of U.S. 421 for a few different reasons.

Maymead President Wiley Roark said he intends to appeal that decision with the Watauga County Board of Adjustment.

For previous stories on this issue, click here.