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After ETJ Ruling, Watauga Commissioners To Meet Dec. 28 To Consider Moratorium


A map highlighting Boone’s ETJ territory.

By Jesse Wood

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners will meet Wednesday at 12:30 p.m. to decide its next step following yesterday’s N.C. Supreme Court ruling upholding the abolishment of the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ). 

Hours after the ruling was announced last week, Watauga County sent out a meeting notice for Wednesday, Dec. 28, when commissioners will discuss the court ruling and “consider whether enacting a moratorium is necessary.”  

The commissioners will meet in the boardroom on the ground floor of the Watauga County Administration Building at 814 West King Street in Boone.

After the N.C. General Assembly passed former Sen. Dan Soucek’s sponsored legislation abolishing the town’s ETJ in 2014, Watauga County Board of Commissioners enacted a 90-day moratorium on high impact land uses because of citizen’s concerns about polluting industries operating near their homes and neighborhoods.

Watauga County doesn’t have countywide zoning, and citizens that spoke out against the ETJ were looking for more stringent regulations paralleling the Town of Boone’s ordinances.

That moratorium was a stopgap measure while the Watauga County Planning Board studied permanent solutions.

Concerned citizens asked for a two-year moratorium on polluting industries operating in the ETJ and at least a 1,000-foot buffer between polluting industries and residential dwellings. At the time, the county had a 1,500-foot buffer between some of the high-impact land uses and educational facilities, nursing homes, religious facilities and childcare facilities – but no residential buffer.

The Watauga County Board of Commissioners eventually enacted a 750-foot buffer between residential property lines and Category 1 uses [Asphalt Plants, Cement Mixing Facilities, Quarries/Stone Crushers, Chemical Manufacturing, Chemical Storage Facilities, Explosives Manufacturing, and Explosives Storage Facilities, Chip Mills, and Electricity Generating Facilities, excluding Wind and Solar Power Farms, which are regulated by a separate ordinance].

The commissioners also enacted a 1,500-foot buffer between a scenic byway and Category 1 uses. The site of the proposed asphalt plant in Deep Gap is located on a stretch of U.S. 421 known as the Doc and Merle Watson Scenic Byway.

When the commissioners revised the Ordinance to Regulate High Impact Land Uses in 2015, the commission featured a GOP majority. After November’s election, the commission is now controlled by Democrats.

Commission Chair John Welch said the meeting on Wednesday is to seek guidance from staff and legal counsel regarding N.C. Supreme Court’s ruling.

“Right now, I don’t have anything specific as far as what the moratorium would be on. We are just taking a look to see what are the impacts and options since we are the first county that takes over an ETJ, that was stripped from a town,” Welch said. “This is kind of uncharted waters.”

More than 200 ETJs exist in North Carolina, but Soucek’s 2014 bill only targeted Boone. 

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