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As N.C. General Assembly Focuses on Budget before Adjournment; Boone’s ETJ Bill Will Likely Die in House

By Jesse Wood

Map of Boone ETJ. Click for larger image.

Senate Bill 949, which would strip Boone’s ETJ (extra-territorial jurisdiction) rights, which stretch a mile around the municipal limits, will likely fade away in the last minute as the state’s budget, which was vetoed by Gov. Bev Perdue, looms over members of the North Carolina General Assembly.

According to the Carolina Journal, the General Assembly plans to adjourn on Tuesday, “regardless of today’s budget veto override votes.”

The N.C. League of Municipalities posted on its “Legislative Bulletins” blog that SB 949 “died in committee” after it passed in the Senate; passed its first reading in the House; and was withdrawn from the calendar and re-referred to the Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations of the House.

Senator Dan Soucek of District 45, who represents constituents of Ashe and Watauga counties, among others, is the primary sponsor of the bill because he said the Town of Boone has abused its authority and added that constituents of the ETJ don’t have a voice. ETJ residents cannot vote in town elections, do not pay town taxes and do not receive town services. The bill would have become effective on June 30 – if it passed both the Senate and House in a timely fashion.

Soucek said the current focus of the General Assembly is on the budget – not SB 949.

“All efforts are on the budget. Not only, is [the budget] the most important part of the session, but it’s what is determining the schedule and calendar right now,” Soucek said. “All bills like [SB 949] are awaiting more information on where we are going with the budget. The House has already met three times today and has not even brought up the budget bill yet.”

Though it is not likely, Soucek added that SB 949 “could be brought up at the House at any time.”

If the bill is not brought up again before the 2012 Short Session of the General Assembly Short Session adjourns on Tuesday, Soucek vowed to take a “leadership role” regarding ETJs across the High Country and the state.

State Sen. Daniel Soucek

“I think this is a critical issue. Something that I’ve learned in the whole process, talking with House Representatives and Senators is that the clear majority [believes] property rights are one of the most important issues we have to discuss here,” Soucek said. “A lot of members have brought up ETJ issues across the state – something that needs to be addressed, and I plan on taking a leadership role in this district and around the state in protecting property rights.”

When asked if he’s been in discussions with a developer, Soucek said, “That’s been one of the deceitful parts of this whole process.” He said that he has talked with local business owners and property owners but not with “someone from outside the area who has specific plans to come in here and create a development.”

“The idea of a developer has been a deception that this is being done for a specific purpose. But this is being done for the purpose of property rights,” Soucek said. “I am not working for anyone on a specific development. Creating law for a specific person is not good policy. It’s good for public welfare. That’s why I am pushing. No developer, per se, has talked to me about this issue regarding anything they would like to do.”

The idea of him working with a developer is a “deception,” Soucek said, that stems from his talks with the Templeton family, which has been involved in litigation against the Town of Boone for the past five or so years regarding the construction of  a medical clinic on VFW Drive.  

He continued, “[They] own a lot of land in the area, have built buildings. So they call him a developer when that is a local family with property. Sure he’s developed stuff. When people develop stuff, they think of someone who comes in, buys land and creates something. Not someone who is trying to use their land and a local person who has an investment in the community.”

The Town of Boone has been very vocal since this issue arose in the General Assembly in Raleigh. Mayor Loretta Clawson released a statement in early June stating that 3,500 people will be affected within the ETJ area without zoning protections.

In the late ‘90s, folks from the Seven Oaks subdivision in Boone petitioned to become apart of Boone’s ETJ to prevent an asphalt plant from residing nearby the housing area.  

In her statement, Clawson said, “Should this bill become law, people who purchased their homes thinking they would be protected by zoning from land uses which might negatively affect them can no longer count on that protection, since any type of development will be possible anywhere. The Town will be unable to prevent high-density development on the mountains, which create Boone’s spectacular backdrop. Following visually disturbing developments, the Town adopted ordinances to prevent similar projects. These ordinances will be nullified if this bill is passed.”

At Boone Town Council’s June 22 meeting, council members consulted the town attorney on the “possible handling of judicial action” regarding Boone’s ETJ in closed session.

Though Council Member Andy Ball declined to comment on specifics, he noted to the High Country Press a week ago that “we’re certainly keeping all options open.”

If the bill is not addressed before the General Assembly adjourns tomorrow, those options may not be necessary – at least for this summer.