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Commissioners Give Staff Direction, Receive Tentative Timeline Regarding Boone’s Former ETJ

By Jesse Wood

On Tuesday evening, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners gave staff some direction regarding the abolishment of the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). The commissioners also received a timeline for the matter.

The county took over zoning authority of the former ETJ area earlier this month after N.C. Supreme Court ruling upheld the abolishment of the town’s ETJ. A day before that ruling went into effect, the commissioners passed a 60-day moratorium on high impact land use (HILU) development in most of the ETJ.

The moratorium ends on March 10. See tentative timeline at end of article.

Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque and Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman asked the commissioners what they would like the Watauga County Planning Board to review with regards to the Ordinance to Regulate High Impact Land Use.

Commissioner Perry Yates, a Republican, stated he would like to see the planning board review potential dates attached to permits for HILU development, such as dates for completion of project under permit and/or date permit expires if project isn’t started.

The permit for the proposed asphalt plant by Maymead on U.S. 421 in Deep Gap, for example, was initially issued to J.W. Hampton Co. several years ago. Nearby property owners and the public, however, didn’t hear about the permit until 2015, when Maymead acquired the HILU permit from Johnny Hampton, who operated JW Hampton Co., a rock crushing and recycling yard. 

When reviewing the high impact land use ordinance last year, the commissioners approved an amendment to the ordinance that would notify adjoining property owners by first-class mail of an evidentiary hearing with the Watauga County Board of Adjustment regarding a HILU permit request.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy, a Democrat, asked about expanding that notification further out in the area than just the adjoining property owners. Furman said that a sign will be posted on the subject property and agreed to alert the planning board of Kennedy’s request.

Commissioners John Welch and Larry Turnbow, both Democrats, asked about the transfer of permits and if an amendment to the ordinance could prevent the transfer of a HILU permit, such as what happened between Maymead and Johnny Hampton, in the future.  

“Permits run with the land. They don’t run with the person. It’s well established in the statutes that permits run with the land … despite what you maybe hearing,” Furman said. “It’s a constitutional issue.”

Kennedy asked about the 1,500-foot setback for churches, educational and childcare facilities, public outdoor recreation areas and nursing homes and assisted living facilities being bigger than the 750-foot buffer between the nearest property line of a residential dwelling and a Category 1 HILU development. See ordinance here for outline of category uses. 

Furman said that the Watauga County Planning Board took a thorough look at this previously when anticipating the abolishment of the ETJ before the issue went before the courts.

Back then and in previous meetings discussing this issue, Furman has shown the commissioners, staff and the meeting’s audience a digital mapping system that shows the interaction and overlapping of all the buffers together and how the expansion of those buffers would look.

“You’ve seen the map and how all of those buffers run together so that very little land is left,” Furman said. “We have to be careful of having the effect of totally banning uses by making regulations so strict. We could look at that again, but we looked at it pretty thoroughly before.”

While not a HILU development, Commissioner Jimmy Hodges asked about having the planning board and staff look at multi-family housing and the effect student-rental housing – and even residential homes serving as large vacation rentals – have in single-family neighborhoods in the county.

In an effort to preserve neighborhoods for families, Town of Boone ordinances prohibit two unrelated people from living in a dwelling in single-family neighborhoods. Currently, the state residential code prohibits more than five unrelated individuals living in a home constructed under the residential ordinances.

Furman said staff would look into the issue. Furman noted that it’s a tough ordinance to enforce and said that planning staff generally find out about violations whenever someone calls in a complaint. As Commissioner Welch said, staff isn’t necessarily driving around the county and knocking on doors to figure out who is living where.

“We pretty much have to be told that we have to look at this structure to find that out,” Furman said. “… We found out about one because a group of 30 people were stranded in the snow and called 911. They were in a house that wasn’t supposed to be used for that. That’s how we found out about it.”

County staff and the commissioners are accepting emailed comments from the public on this issue no later than Jan. 31 at Public.Comments@watgov.org

A public hearing will also be scheduled in the coming weeks regarding any changes to the HILU ordinance. County Manager Deron Geouque also said that a Frequently Asked Questions document would be produced for the public – with the help of UNC School of Government and attorneys – to answer questions, clear up misconceptions and note what the county legally can and can’t do regarding enforcing high impact land uses.

For more background on this issue, search for keywords like ETJ, high impact land use and asphalt plant in the search box at the top-right-hand corner of this page.  

Below is a memo from County Manager Deron Geouque to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners regarding a tentative timeline: 

The story above has been updated.