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Watauga Planning Board Presents HILU Ordinance Recommendations, Public Hearing Set for Feb. 28

By Jesse Wood

Watauga County Planning Board Chair Ric Mattar presented recommended changes to the Ordinance to Regulate High Impact Land Uses to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night.

When the N.C. Supreme Court upheld a state law abolishing the Town of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), the commissioners directed the planning board to revisit the HILU ordinance. 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.

Watauga County Planning Board Chair Ric Mattar presents proposed amendments to HILU. Photo by Jesse Wood

The planning board met twice in the past month and finalized the HILU recommendations last week. The recommendations were made public since that meeting, so Mattar was on hand to answer any questions from the commissioners.

Read over the entire proposed amendments here. Recommended additions are in red, while deletions are crossed through.

“We pretty much knocked out what we wanted to with, of course, help from staff and the board itself and got everything nailed down Monday a week ago with a couple of fairly moderate changes if you will or additions,” Mattar said.

Commissioner Billy Kennedy, who noted that the proposed amended ordinance “looks pretty thorough,” asked if the planning board considered all of the written comments submitted to the public by Jan. 31st.

Mattar responded that the board did address each concern.

He did note, however, that “to prevent the transfer of permits is actually not legal.”

“It’s considered unconstitutional, an equal protection issue,” Mattar said.

He was alluding to concerns citizens had with Maymead obtaining the HILU permit from Johnny Hampton several years after the permit was initially issued. The public didn’t hear about Maymead’s proposed asphalt plant in Deep Gap until the company applied for an air quality permit with the state in 2015.

The planning board did, however, recommend a two-year expiration date on HILU permits if reasonable progress of the development isn’t achieved and a notification system for nearby property owners who are within 500 feet or abut the HILU property.

“[A HILU permit] will expire after two years if not implemented. This kind of protects from repeats of incidents that have happened in the past,” Mattar said. “… One of the comments was to notify everyone in the county. Obviously, that would be cost prohibitive, so the idea was we’d [also] have a notice in the newspaper and put it on the website.”

Commissioner Perry Yates asked about the two-year expiration date. He prefaced his question by mentioning the Brown Enterprises took 15 to 20 years to develop the Shadowline Shopping Center, where Harris Teeter is located.

“Being from here, I remember when Harris Teeter used to be nothing … Once [the developer] started, say if, he built the Harris Teeter and then was coming down for the next stretch would he have to get a new permit or is there a time limit on him completing the project?” Yates asked.

Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman responded, “If they are working to make reasonable progress, then it is not going to expire but if they don’t start in two years, then it expires and there are provisions for revocation of permits for violations and so forth. That’s new.”

Yates also asked about the spacing or buffers between HILU developments and adjoining properties. When the law abolishing the town’s ETJ was first passed in 2015 (and before the matter went through the court system), the commissioners revised the HILU ordinance, enacting a 750-foot buffer between a dwelling and a Category 1 use and a 1,500-foot buffer between a N.C. Scenic Byway or the Blue Ridge Parkway and a Category 1 use. (See a listing of categories further down in article.)

At a recent meeting, Furman noted that there wasn’t much room to expand those buffers by saying, “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.”

The planning board didn’t tweak the aforementioned buffers but it did recommend the following:

  • 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.

Furman replied to Yates’ question about the spacing: “Some of the [setbacks] doubled. That combined with spacing. Two separate things are at work: one moves outwards and one is inward, so you’ve got to have a really big piece of property to meet those setbacks. Then you are buried deep within your own property and then there is the spacing on top of that.”

Mattar noted that motor sports facilities were added to the list of HILUs. 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.

Read over the entire proposed amendments here.

The commissioners will hold a public hearing on the proposed amendments during a special meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 28 at 5:30 p.m.