By Jesse Wood
The Watauga County Board of Adjustment, which operates in a quasi-judicial manner, overturned the Watauga County Planning Department’s decision to revoke a permit for an asphalt plant proposed by Tennessee-based Maymead Inc. off of U.S. 421.
The proposed site is located in between Boone and Deep Gap and on property owned by Johnny Hampton, which operated J.W. Hampton Co. and leased the property to Maymead for an asphalt plant a year ago. This plant would provide asphalt for the U.S. 221 widening project from Jefferson to Deep Gap.
Hampton initially secured a permit for an asphalt plant in 2011 without the knowledge of the general public. The county has since changed its procedures to notify neighbors of any permit application pending for an asphalt plant.
In June, Watauga County Planning Director Joe Furman said that his department revoked the permit, deemed it expired and nontransferable to Maymead for three reasons:
- Additional required permits have not been obtained/maintained as follows: air quality permit from N.C. Division of Air Quality; driveway connection permit from N.C. Department of Transportation; storm water permit from N.C. Division of Energy, Mineral and Land Resources; grading/building/electrical permits from Watauga County
- Four years have passed since the original permit was issued and no appreciable progress has been made towards its implementation; as a result of this delay in establishing a use under the previously issued permit, it has expired
- The area described in the lease agreement does not encompass the area previously described in the Hampton permit related to the potential location of an asphalt plant. Discrepancies between lease area and the previously permitted (now expired) location make the proposed use not compliant with the ordinance or the now expired permit
Maymead then appealed the decision, citing its vested rights, to the Watauga County Board of Adjustment, which heard more than 50 hours of testimony over the course of a couple months before making a decision last night.
“The [Watauga County Board of Adjustment] decided to overturn the revocation based upon their findings that the permit had not expired and that a common law vested right to continue with the project had been established based upon their findings that the appellants made substantial expenditures in good faith in reliance upon a valid governmental approval, and that if the revocation was upheld it would cause harm to the appellants,” Furman said in an email on Thursday morning.
The Watauga Democrat reported that representatives of Hampton/Maymead team testified that “J.W. Hampton Co. spent hundreds of thousands of dollars and Maymead spent $1.6 million on the asphalt plant project” and that this “resonated” with the board members.
“The board did not accept arguments from the county that the activity and expenditures at the 421 site were related solely to other business ventures of J.W. Hampton and Maymead, including existing rock crushing and recycling operations — and were not made in progress toward an asphalt plant,” the paper reported.
Members of High Country W.A.T.C.H., a group of concerned citizens formed in opposition to the asphalt plant, intervened on behalf of the county and presented its own case before the board. High Country W.A.T.C.H. held protests before commissioner meetings in the summer and cited health, quality of life and declining property value concerns if the asphalt plant were to be approved.
After Wednesday night’s decision, the High Country W.A.T.C.H. Facebook page was flooded with comments such as “heartbreaking,” “wtf terrible,” “are you kidding me?!” and so forth.
“The members of the board of adjustments deliberated for just minutes. Very discouraging. Very bad for the county. An out-of-state company gets to make millions providing asphalt for an Ashe County road project using a permit issued years ago to another company for land that was never used for asphalt production,” Anne Ward, an HC Watch member, wrote.
The county or the intervening HC Watch members can appeal the decision to N.C. Superior Court and have 30 days to so upon the written decision being delivered to both sides.
“I have no idea whether there will be an appeal,” Furman said.
A request for comment from County Manager Deron Geouque wasn’t immediately returned.
In the meantime, state environmental regulators have scheduled a public hearing for March 3 on a permit for controlling potential air emissions from proposed asphalt plant in Watauga County. The state’s Division of Air Quality, however, doesn’t have any say on the location of a plant. See more on that hearing here.