By Jesse Wood
Aug. 19, 2014. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners heard from 27 constituents regarding the pending elimination of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) that was enacted by the N.C. General Assembly earlier this summer. Of those 27 that spoke, only three favored the elimination of the ETJ.
The elimination of the ETJ goes into effect Jan 1, 2015, and those residents and property owners of the soon-to-be former ETJ will fall under the jurisdiction of Watauga County’s planning ordinances.
Sandra Spach, a resident in the Sunny Knoll Acres neighborhood for 35 years, expressed concern about the expansion of Radford Quarries, located off of Bamboo Road, next to her residential area. She said a rock crusher is being assembled for operation on the expanded site and that with the expansion there will no longer be an adequate buffer between the quarry and her home. (Boone Planning Director Bill Bailey noted in a High Country Press article earlier this year that Radford Quarries had expanded beyond its permit and state officials were notified.)
Spach said that with the extended operations, the quality of life will be “drastically impaired by the unhealthy air quality” from the dust the quarry stirs up – not to mention the dust carried over in windy weather. She noted what would be “intolerable noise” and the potential damage to wells and homes with the vibrations of rock-blasting operations.
“Home values will plummet,” Spach said.
Many of those speaking in favor of more protections, which were afforded them under the Town of Boone’s ETJ, mentioned the potential for declining home values if “polluting industries” were to move into historically residential neighborhoods.
Liz Riddick, an ETJ property owner, real estate agent and former Boone Town Council member, said she was “very concerned” about ETJ property values declining “as a result of incompatible development.”
“The unknown is a hard sell to a buyer,” Riddick said.
She noted that she had a client interested in a house that was surrounded by three acres. Today, she said, that land could only be developed for a single-family home.
“Starting Jan. 1, it could be a large-multi family [student housing complex] or a manufacturing facility,” Riddick said. “As a realtor, I have to let the buyer know almost any kind of development that could be built right next to them.”
Something else that Riddick mentioned – and others did as well – was the fact that these homeowners in the ETJ weren’t notified or polled before hand about this legislation.
“Nobody called or emailed me asking me if I was happy or unhappy with the ETJ regulations,” Riddick said.
As Mary Cavanaugh, who was also in favor of retaining the regulations under Boone’s ETJ, said, “If the folks in Raleigh had done something similar [to the public hearing you are holding today] you might not be in this situation.”
Pamela Gantt, a resident in Boone in the ‘60s as a kid and a ETJ resident since 1976, said that her house overlooks a concrete plant that has since ceased operations. While she said she still has great neighbors, she isn’t “proud” of her neighborhood that overlooks the abandoned concrete plant that shut down because of violating ordinances of the Town of Boone. With the elimination of the ETJ, she warned that it could restart operations beginning Jan. 1.
Gantt added that she is in the medical profession, which has a “do no harm” motto.
“I think land use should be like that: do no harm,” Gantt said, adding that the lumberyard and construction company that operates on Roby Greene Road doesn’t bother her but a concrete plant does.
“I hope you will take some time to think about it,” Gantt said.
Before the meeting began, the Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and the Watauga Citizens for Local Control held a press conference and called for “the protection of all residents from polluting industry and the restoration of the safeguards of the ETJ.”
As a first step, these organizations were requesting a two-year moratorium on new polluting industries and the development of a polluting industries ordinance. This would provide a “stop-gap” until protections afforded by the ETJ can be reinstated, a press release form the groups read.
“The model we are recommending for Watauga County is the ordinance enacted by its neighbor Ashe County in 1999. It is a conservative public health measure which has served the community well for 15 years,” said Lou Zeller, executive director of BREDL.
One commenter, P.J. Ollis, who spoke briefly and considered himself neutral, said the town wouldn’t allow him to put a carport on his lot at some point in the past. He added that he’d “let [the frustration of that incident] go at this point” and encouraged the commissioners to do the same when looking at this issue.
“I think you guys can get together and come up with something to help all of us – including business and citizens,” Ollis said. “You guys have the ball. The state basically put it in your hands. Drop all the stuff in the past and go from there.”
Three ETJ residents spoke in favor of the abolishment of the ETJ: Margaret Eggers, Jeff Templeton and Rick Woods.
Eggers, a resident of the ETJ, said she was “overjoyed” with the abolishment of Boone’s ETJ, and reiterated the talking point of Chair of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners Nathan Miller, who has been very critical of the ETJ and who was noticeable absent from the hearing, and Sen. Dan Soucek, the sponsor of the bill: “regulation without representation.”
Those who live in the ETJ must abide by ordinances and regulations of the town, however, they can’t vote in Boone elections.
Eggers also blasted the Boone Town Council for its “poor job” of regulating land use, citing empty storefronts that are “vacant shells of a building” and the old Watauga High School property that is still on the market after several years. She also criticized the Boone Town Council for “rebuffing” commissioner appointments for ETJ members to town boards and for “limiting property owners the right to use their own land.”
Jeff Templeton, who spoke in Raleigh on behalf of the elimination of the town’s ETJ, encouraged the commissioners to avoid a “one-size-fits-all” approach and noted that “some regulations can actually devalue undeveloped property and farmland that makes up a majority of the ETJ zone.”
He suggested abandoning the current boundaries of the ETJ and working with neighborhoods regarding new zoning areas “they seek without hurting others.”
Templeton added that he would also be in favor of a two-year moratorium on high polluting industries.
After listening to more than an hour of public comment and hearing from all of those who wished to speak on the matter, the commissioners closed the public hearing. Commissioners Billy Kennedy and David Blust spoke briefly afterwards.
Kennedy, who said he appreciated all of the comments, called this matter a “serious issue” and that the commissioners need to look into protecting all county residents.
“We all want the county to grow well, and we need to work this out and come to some resolution that works for everyone,” Kennedy said.
Blust thanked those for speaking out as well.
“We are going to ask the planning board to look at this,” Blust said. “Many are here tonight.”
Blust asked those planning board members in attendance to raise their hands. Five did.
Blust said the planning board would make some recommendations and pass them onto the commissioners, who would then go from there.
Correction: P.J. Ollis said he was neutral on the ETJ issue – not for abolishing the ETJ.