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Planning Board Makes Recommendations To Amend Ordinance to Regulate High Impact Land Uses

By Jesse Wood

Last night, The Watauga County Planning Board met for the second and final time to propose potential amendments to the county’s Ordinance to Regulate High Impact Land Uses. See the entire proposed amendments here.

The commissioners directed the planning board to revisit the ordinance after the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a North Carolina law abolishing the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ).

Currently, there is a moratorium on high impact land use development in the Town of Boone’s former ETJ. This moratorium expires on March 10.

Regulated uses fall under three categories – Category 1, 2 and 3 – in the ordinance. Among the proposed amendments recommended last night by the planning board, motor sports facilities were added to the list of uses in Category 1.

Previously, motor sports facilities weren’t listed. However, complaints from residents near the Mountain View Speedway, which opened up in 2015 after a 17-year hiatus, certainly brought attention to motor sports facilities.

The Mountain View Speedway is grandfathered in to the ordinance, so it won’t be affected by any changes the commissioners eventually decide to approve, according to Planning Director Joe Furman.

Currently, high impact land uses (HILU) in Category 1 consist of 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).

The listing of uses in Categories 2 and 3 weren’t modified.

Category 2 consists of Automotive Graveyards, Propane, Gasoline, or Fuel Oil Bulk Storage Facilities, and Junk/Scrap Yards.

Category 3 consists of Electric Substations, Commercial/Industrial Development with aggregate building footprint 50,000 square feet or greater, Recycling Facilities, and Solar Power Farms.

Under the list of definitions in the ordinance, proposed changes or additions are listed in red:

Educational Facility – Includes Elementary schools, secondary schools, community colleges, colleges, and universities, including support facilities such as administration for all of the preceding. Also includes any property owned or operated by those facilities used for educational, vocational or athletic purposes.

Motor Sports Facility – A facility, track or course open to the public upon which motor sports racing, racing practice or motor sports related activity is conducted and may include paved or dirt tracks, spectator seating/standing areas, concession areas, restrooms, parking facilities, and broadcast platforms or booths.

Increased setbacks for the side and rear property lines for all category uses were recommended to be increased to 200 feet (versus 100 feet currently) for Category 1 and 2 uses and 100 feet (versus 75 feet currently) for Category 3 uses.

Where HILU adjoin each other, the planning board recommended that required setbacks be allowed reductions of 50 feet (as opposed to 45 feet) from each other.

Setbacks from the “edge of a travelled area (stone or paved) of all public roads” is recommended to be increased from 185 feet to 200 feet unless spacing requirements in the ordinance apply.

New sections G and H were added that pertain to driveway connection permits, traffic impact analysis and other “applicable federal and state permits.” 

A section pertaining to permit expiration was recommended: “A HILU Special Use Permit shall expire if a Building Permit or High Impact Land Use Occupancy Permit for such use is not obtained by the applicant within twenty four (24) months from the date of issuance.

This was a point of concern among those advocating for changes within the HILU ordinance because of the proposed asphalt plant by Maymead on U.S. 421 in Deep Gap. The HILU permit for this development was initially obtained by Johnny Hampton, who owned the rock crushing and recycling yard, several years ago. The public, however, didn’t hear about this HILU site until Maymead applied for an air quality permit with the state in the spring of 2015.

This was another concern among those advocating for more changes to the ordinance. The planning board recommended the following be added to the ordinance: “Due notice shall include posting a sign on property being considered by the Board as well as mailed notice to owners of property abutting and other property owners within 500 feet of the subject property, notice published in a newspaper of general circulation in the area two (2) weeks in advance of the evidentiary hearing, and an announcement of the hearing on the County’s web site.

During public comment, some folks asked for bigger buffers between HILU uses and neighborhoods or residential dwellings. The planning board took a look at this issue in 2015 in anticipation of the abolishment of the ETJ, which was originally effective on Jan. 1, 2016 – before the matter went before the courts. Prior to 2015, no significant buffer was required to exist between homes and HILU uses.

In 2015, the commissioners – based on planning board recommendations – enacted a 750 foot buffer between a dwelling and a Category 1 use and a 1,500 foo buffer between a N.C. Scenic Byway or the Blue Ridge Parkway and a Category 1 use.

This is unchanged in the proposed amendments. As Furman said at a prior meeting, “You’ve seen the map and how all of those buffers run together so that very little land is left. We have to be careful of having the effect of totally banning uses by making regulations so strict.”

See the entire proposed amendments here. What is in red is newly proposed and what is struck through is on the chopping block – as recommended by the planning board.

The commissioners will receive these proposed recommendations for the Feb. 21 meeting. On Feb. 28, the commissioners will hold a public hearing to hear from citizens on the proposed recommendations.

The commissioners will meet one more time on March 7 before the moratorium expires on March 10. This will afford the commissioners another chance for possible action on the HILU ordinance. See the latest timeline from Watauga County Manager Deron Geouque below: