By Paul T. Choate
June 8, 2012. In what has become a brewing controversy, the Senate Bill 949 Town of Boone/ETJ was approved on Thursday, June 7, by the State and Local Government Senate Standing Committee to go to a full vote in the state Senate. The bill, proposed by state Sen. Daniel Soucek (R-Boone), has not been received well by Town of Boone officials.
As defined by Article 19 of Statutes §160A, an extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) is the area in a county outside of incorporated town limits that is subject to the town’s land use regulations. Senate Bill 949 would strip Boone of its ETJ Powers. Soucek, however, said that was not his goal.
“My goal was not to take away the ETJ powers of Boone,” said Soucek. “It was to give a voice to the people in the ETJ who had felt ignored and bullied for years. They basically have regulation without representation.”
Soucek said he has heard a lot of input from people both for and against the ETJ, but said he felt that the majority of people were opposed to it. This differs from statements coming from Town of Boone officials.
“I guess he can say whatever he wants to, but my people who have been emailing me and calling me and talking to me at meetings, a lot of them live in the ETJ … and they’re very, very happy [with the regulations],” said Boone Mayor Loretta Clawson. “The people who are contacting me and talking to me, some of them are almost in tears because they have really, really loved the fact that they were protected by town zoning – that not just anything could move in next door to them – and they’re very happy with ETJ.”
Bill Bailey, director of Boone’s Planning and Inspections Department said on June 4, prior to the Senate committee vote, “For the most part, residents want the zoning, so this is an interesting development.”
Soucek contends that, with the exception of residents in the Seven Oaks area, he has heard very little positive comments about the regulations from ETJ residents of Watauga County.
“A bunch of realtors came and talked to me,” said Soucek. “They mentioned how when people are moving to the area, often times they will say, ‘We don’t want a property in the ETJ because we don’t like the restrictions that Boone puts on that property. We like to have more control over how our house or our business is run.’ It actually makes it more difficult for people who have property or houses in the ETJ to sell it.”
Soucek also added that he felt the ETJ was created so towns could grow. He said it was designed to be a step toward annexation and that some areas within the Boone ETJ could never be annexed — using upslopes where water, sewer and sidewalks could not be put in as an example.
“It wasn’t meant as a way to influence the area around a town indefinitely with regulations for people who can’t vote. It was really designed for people who eventually would be part of the town,” said Soucek.
If the bill passes, annexation may end up being a possibility for some residents currently residing in the ETJ.
“The county has no zoning and they have mentioned to me, a couple of the neighborhoods have, about annexation and if it would be possible for us to go ahead and annex them,” said Clawson
Due to Boone’s limited water resources, annexation of areas would have to be reviewed and assessed, noted Clawson, but expressed support for the idea.
“I would certainly maybe hope that some of these areas that are just desperate could come into the town and be annexed.”
Prior to the Thursday vote, Clawson and Lee Stroupe, an ETJ resident, spoke in opposition to the bill in front of the Senate committee in Raleigh. Clawson said Stroupe noted how the town’s ETJ powers protected him from an asphalt plant being constructed close to his residence.
The bill was narrowly approved, with a vote of 5-4. Soucek suggested it would have passed with greater approval had there not been an absence of some committee members.
“We had multiple committee meetings going on at the time so it was actually only a small number of people that are on the committee who were present,” said Soucek. “A lot of people who were in favor of it were at another committee.”
Soucek described some of the opposition’s reaction to his bill as “scare tactics.”
“Part of the reaction wasn’t to come to me directly and start working on this,” said Soucek. “Part of it seemed to go to the residents of the ETJ and try to scare them with some facts that were potentially true but a bit of a stretch.”
Soucek said he would be open to suggestions for revisions or amendments to his bill, but that he has not heard any suggestions as of yet.
Clawson said she doesn’t know why Soucek proposed the bill. She also added that she did not see how revisions could help.
“It’s been very vague as to why he is doing what he’s doing,” said Clawson. “We’ve had ETJ for 30 years and been very happy. We haven’t had any problem with it.”
The full Senate vote is scheduled for Tuesday, June 12, and if it passes in the Senate it will go to a vote in the N.C. House of Representatives. Ultimately, if the bill passes, Boone will be the only town in the “three B’s” of the High Country without ETJ powers, as Blowing Rock and Banner Elk both do.
To view the bill listing on the North Carolina General Assembly website and track its progress, click here.