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Watauga County Planning Board To Begin Discussions on Abolishment of Boone’s ETJ at Monday Meeting

By Jesse Wood

Sept. 12, 2014. The Watauga County Planning Board will discuss the county taking over the Boone extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), which becomes effective Jan. 1, 2015, next week.

The Planning Board meets at 6 p.m. on Monday, Sept. 15, in the Watauga County Administration Building next to the courthouse on King Street. The meeting is open to the public.

Following the N.C. General Assembly passing Sen. Dan Soucek’s sponsored legislation abolishing the town’s ETJ in June, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners held a public hearing in August on the matter to hear what – if any – regulations or protections citizens of the soon-to-be-expiring ETJ would want. Nearly 30 people spoke at the hearing and the overwhelming majority favored similar regulations to what was imposed by the Town of Boone.

After the hearing, the Watauga County Board of Commissioners directed the Planning Board to come up with recommendations for the commissioners to consider. Several members of the Planning Board were in attendance and listened to the comments from the public.

On Friday, Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said the timeline for making the recommendations is unknown. Furman noted that any recommendations likely wouldn’t be made before the election because “it’s just not enough time” to receive additional comments from the public and “thoroughly discuss all of the options.”

Furman said the board will discuss and agree on an itinerary of steps to follow during this process. These would likely include seeking input from ETJ residents by holding meetings with neighborhoods and stakeholders in September and October. Then the board would study the input, existing regulations and also consider alternatives.

Furman noted that at the hearing residents spoke about adopting a Polluting Industries Ordinance similar to what Ashe County adopted in 1999 and also a two-year, countywide moratorium on polluting industries.

An “optimistic” timeframe for the board to make a list of recommendations to the commissioners is November or December, Furman said.

Earlier this summer, Furman noted in an email that he saw “four realistic options” for the Planning Board to entertain regarding ETJ residents’ “desire to be regulated or not, and to what degree of regulation desired.”

Those were:

1) Take no action and rely upon existing County ordinances.

2) Review existing county ordinances, particularly the High Impact Land Use Ordinance to determine whether any amendments are warranted. Those ordinances and any amendments to them are in effect in the entirety of the county’s jurisdiction.

3) Consider adopting some other kind of general-ordinance-making-authority (not zoning) ordinance to address the situation. Such an ordinance would also be in effect countywide. (To be clear, I do not have one in mind, nor can I predict what one could be.)

4) Consider adopting “partial-county” zoning in some or all of the ETJ as provided for by NC law.”

Furman cited N.C. General Statute 153A-342(d), which states: “A county may determine that the public interest does not require that the entire territorial jurisdiction of the county be zoned and may designate one or more portions of that jurisdiction as a zoning area or areas. A zoning area must originally contain at least 640 acres and at least 10 separate tracts of land in separate ownership and may thereafter be expanded by the addition of any amount of territory. A zoning area may be regulated in the same manner as if the entire county were zoned, and the remainder of the county need not be regulated.”