By Jesse Wood
Oct. 7, 2014. In the third and final community gathering with the Watauga County Planning Board on the elimination of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), about two-dozen people attended the meeting at the gymnasium of the Greenway Baptist Church on Monday.
Those present sat in groups and voiced opinions to each other and the planning board, opinions that spanned from completely restoring regulations similar to those imposed by the Town of Boone to enacting nothing come Jan. 1, 2015, the day the ETJ boundaries go away and becomes part of the Watauga County jurisdiction.
“I think the [county’s current] ordinances are fabulous and promote business,” said Scott Roberts, who didn’t see a need to make any changes in 2015. “[Watauga County Planning & Inspections has] always been here to work with you, and I’ve never felt that the Town of Boone has been here to work with you … Wait until you want to do something on your house and put a deck in and they tell you can’t or you have to go through hoop after hoop to the point where you have to hire an attorney to put in a stupid deck.”
“A gift has been given here,” Roberts said. “I think this is the best thing to have ever happened to landowners.”
While some people like Lee Stroupe and organizations such as Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League have requested that the Watauga County Planning Board recommend a two-year moratorium on polluting industries in the areas of the ETJ to the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, others would rather see the “dust settle” before making what they consider to be a knee-jerk reaction.
Jerry Butler suggested a “short period” such as three months or six months to “let the dust settle and see what happens” before zoning areas in the county, which only has two such areas: Valle Crucis and Grandfather-Foscoe community.
Stroupe and others who enjoy the protections of Boone’s ETJ such as significant buffers for neighborhoods, steep-slope, view shed and high-density development were concerned that if the county didn’t act right away come the first of the year some kind of development would immediately pop up right away on their doorstep.
Stroupe noted that the ETJ prevented Maymead, an aggregate and asphalt operator, from moving near his neighborhood in Seven Oaks and that the ETJ protections led to a grandfathered concrete plant ceasing operations. Another woman noted that the ETJ prevented a chain restaurant/bar, which was described as country nightclub with line dancing, from moving close to her home.
“The driveway would have been right at my bedroom door,” she said. “They saved my home and my peace at night.”
David Stapleton, a contractor who lives in the Perkinsville area of the ETJ, said that he’s been affected by the ETJ since its inception some 30 years ago. He said while the Town of Boone offered him water services at double the rate, he still hasn’t received sewer services because, as he said, town staff has told him the town can’t afford to do so. He said that the Town of Boone has abused its ETJ authority by not eventually annexing his community.
“If they are going to put us in the ETJ, there needs to be a time limit for annexation. If they don’t, then turn us loose,” Stapleton said. “We are just in limbo and that’s not right.”
The Republican mantra on the ETJ – regulation without representation – was mentioned multiple times as ETJ property owners can’t vote for the Boone Town Council or Boone Mayor but must abide by the Town of Boone’s regulations. Which prompted one pro-ETJ person to essentially say, “Let them vote.”
A few times during the night a few people noted how the N.C. General Assembly, spearheaded by Sen. Dan Soucek’s legislation, eliminated the Town of Boone’s ETJ without asking the constituents of the ETJ beforehand. Of all the municipalities in North Carolina, the only ETJ targeted with this legislation was the Town of Boone’s.
“[Our group is] overwhelmingly upset with the decision,” Glenda Hubbard said, adding that the elimination of the ETJ was done “undemocratically” without taking into consideration the concerns and wants of those that live in the ETJ.
“Their job is to hear us,” Hubbard said.
Towards the end of the meeting whenever another person for ETJ protections talked about the N.C. General Assembly removing the ETJ in the Town of Boone, Stapleton shot back: “[The Town of Boone] didn’t ask me if I wanted to be in the ETJ.”
Planning Board Vice Chair Jim West told those in attendance that the board hasn’t made any recommendations for the commissioners yet and encouraged ETJ property owners and residents to continue making comments via emails or phone calls or public comment to the Planning Board members or the Watauga County Board of Commissioners.
In attendance was Jimmy Hodges, a Republican candidate for Watauga County Board of Commissioners, and Commissioner David Blust, also a candidate for commissioner running for re-election. Both noted they were attending to hear from the members of the community.
Hodges noted the tough situation and decisions facing the Planning Board and commended them for taking the time to listen.
“I am trying to listen and trying to take everybody’s thoughts and concerns into consideration,” Hodges said.
See article about a public hearing on this issue here.