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Commissioners To Add Chemical & Explosive Manufacturing To Category 1 in HILO

By Jesse Wood

On Monday, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners held a joint meeting with the Watauga County Planning Board to discuss potential amendments to the noise ordinance and the high impact land use ordinance.

The commissioners already passed amendments to the high impact land use ordinance as it pertains to the three Category 1 uses: asphalt plants, cement mixing facilities and rock quarries. Earlier this month, the commissioners voted to include a 750-foot buffer between residential property lines and Category 1 uses and also a 1,500-foot buffer between scenic byways and Category 1 uses.

(These new amendments will likely prevent Maymead Inc. from building an asphalt plant in Deep Gap along U.S. 421 if the company isn’t successful during its appeal with the county’s Board of Adjustment or any potential appeals in court. Maymead has until the end of the month to file an appeal with the Board of Adjustment. Maymead President Wiley Roark said that he intended to appeal last month, but he has yet to officially file an appeal.)

Following that ruling, citizens who spoke out against asphalt plants were also concerned about other high impact land uses moving in next door because there is no residential buffer for any of the other land uses.

Other uses in the high impact land use ordinance:

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.)

On Monday evening, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners tentatively agreed to a recommendation by the Watauga County Planning Board to add Chemical Storage Facilities, Chemical Manufacturing and Explosives Manufacturing to the uses in Category 1.

High Country W.A.T.C.H., which opposed Maymead’s proposed asphalt plant, had previously announced that they would request three things regarding this issue at tonight’s Watauga County Board of Commissioners meeting: (The commissioners will meet for the second day in a row, but Tuesday’s meeting is a regularly scheduled monthly meeting.)

  • 1) all Category 1,2 and 3 high impact industries be consolidated into one comprehensive whole.
  • 2) public hearings be held prior to issuing permits to high impact industries.
  • 3) a two-month moratorium be enacted on Categories 2 and 3 to facilitate necessary changes ( Among them but not limited to: notification of effected land owners, provisions for study of traffic patterns, penalties for non-compliance, non-transfer of HILU permits, and setbacks for all HILU industries.)

Prior to Monday’s meeting, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners agreed to consider a 60-day moratorium on all high impact land uses while discussing its next plan of action. On Monday, the commissioners didn’t enact a moratorium.

“If we start putting moratoriums on everything, it hurts are credibility with the powers that be,” Chair Jimmy Hodges said, adding that blanket moratoriums are “not good government.”

Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said that the current high impact land use ordinance is “already stricter than any zoning requirements.” He said that there have been four permits issued since the law was adopted earlier this year: electrical substation, propane bulk storage, a permit for improvements at Maymead’s location on N.C. 105 and Maymead’s recently revoked asphalt plant permit on U.S. 421.

“Nobody is beating down the doors to establish these,” Furman said. “We don’t appear to be circled by vultures to establish these and try to slide in [before new potential amendments to the ordinance].”

As officials at the meeting said, the geography and transportation infrastructure of the High Country isn’t necessarily practical for some of these uses.

Noting second-home residences and the tourism industry, Commissioner Billy Kennedy said that property taxes make up a huge percentage of the county’s yearly revenue and if some of these high impact land uses moved in next door, then the property values would drop and the county would see less revenue.

Kennedy also asked: what’s the downside of having all the uses in Category 1? Nobody directly answered that question but Furman did say, “There may not be a downside for some of these uses.”

While a residential buffer doesn’t exist for uses in Categories 2 and 3, it does include 1,500-foot setbacks from educational facilities, nursing homes, religious facilities, childcare facilities and outdoor recreation areas.

Commissioner David Blust said that there are “very few places” for any of these ordinances to operate due to the development that has already occurred in the county and the current ordinances.

Before the commissioners can officially approve the amendments to add Chemical Storage Facilities, Chemical Manufacturing and Explosives Manufacturing to Category 1 uses, the commissioners must hold a public hearing, which is scheduled for Aug. 4., to amend an ordinance.

The commissioners didn’t address the issue of requiring a public hearing or at least notifying the public of any high impacts land use application prior to approval.

The commissioners will meet at 5:30 p.m. on Tuesday, July 21, in the Watauga County Administration Building on King Street. Among the agenda items is a public hearing regarding a 60-day moratorium on Category 2 and 3 uses in the HILO.