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Watauga Commissioners To Hear From ETJ Citizens on Tuesday, See Possibilities for Residents of County

By Jesse Wood

Aug. 15, 2014. The Watauga County Board of Commissioners meets next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. Among the agenda items is a public hearing to listen to comments from citizens regarding the elimination of Boone’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ) enacted by the N.C. General Assembly in June. The legislation goes into effect Jan. 1, 2015.

In a release following the passage of Sen. Dan Soucek’s bill in June, Chair Nathan Miller of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners noted that the public hearing would be to “to hear from the citizens and real property owners of the former Town of Boone ETJ about ideas concerning some, if any, restrictions the citizens and real property owners wish imposed upon them by their elected officials.”

The Boone Town Council has already discussed options for residents (of what will be the former ETJ) who may prefer the regulations of the Town of Boone as opposed to those in the county. At a meeting in July, one council member noted that 1,000 single-family homes that exist in the ETJ.

At that meeting, town planning staff and attorney discussed the voluntary (contiguous or satellite) annexation and forced annexations as methods for citizens to remain in the Town of Boone’s planning jurisdiction. Staff expressed caution at forced annexations because of the possibility of ending up in court. Staff members also noted that satellite annexation, which isn’t contiguous with the town’s boundaries, are “a little problematic” in the fact that 100 percent of the population, typically in a subdivision, must agree.

“Contiguous annexations are simpler,” Boone Planning Director Bill Bailey said in July.

Council members noted that they would consider waiving the annexation petition fees in light of the legislature, and staff mentioned that the process takes about three months to become effective. Planning Development Coordinator Jane Shook said that in the past the town “usually” processes annexation requests only if they are also tied to requests for water and sewer service from the town.

Recently, High Country Press asked Planning Director Joe Furman via email about the options of ETJ residents, who don’t want to be under Boone’s planning jurisdiction, but may want some kind of regulations or zoning put in place.

Furman noted that the first step would be for residents to speak at the public hearing regarding their “desire to be regulated or not, and to what degree of regulation desired.” He added that then the Watauga County Planning Board, assisted by county staff, would likely be assigned to develop a recommendation of action(s) for the commissioners to consider. Furman said the planning board would likely seek additional citizen input as well.

“It seems to me there are four realistic options the Planning Board would consider before making a recommendation to the Commissioners,” Furman responded.

  • “1) Take no action and rely upon existing County ordinances.
  • 2) Review existing county ordinances, particularly the High Impact Land Use Ordinance to determine whether any amendments are warranted. Those ordinances and any amendments to them are in effect in the entirety of the county’s jurisdiction.
  • 3) Consider adopting some other kind of general-ordinance-making-authority (not zoning) ordinance to address the situation. Such an ordinance would also be in effect countywide. (To be clear, I do not have one in mind, nor can I predict what one could be.)
  • 4) Consider adopting “partial-county” zoning in some or all of the ETJ as provided for by NC law.”

Furman cited N.C. General Statute 153A-342(d), which states: “A county may determine that the public interest does not require that the entire territorial jurisdiction of the county be zoned and may designate one or more portions of that jurisdiction as a zoning area or areas. A zoning area must originally contain at least 640 acres and at least 10 separate tracts of land in separate ownership and may thereafter be expanded by the addition of any amount of territory. A zoning area may be regulated in the same manner as if the entire county were zoned, and the remainder of the county need not be regulated.”

Watauga County doesn’t have countywide zoning, something which Mayor Andy Ball pointed out whenever Soucek’s bill was making its way through the N.C. House and Senate.

“The county doesn’t have countywide land-use controls established. Basically, the zoning we have out there is not something that can be replaced by the county,” Ball said in early June. “If the county had zoning countywide it would be a different story, but we don’t have that situation.”

At that time, Furman said the county wasn’t the “Wild West” and pointed to the Ordinance to Regulate High Impacts Land Uses, such as asphalt plants, cement mixing facilities, chemical storage facilities and so forth.

“It’s simply not true that the county has no ordinances and doesn’t regulate development in any way,” Furman said in June, adding, however, that the county only zones a couple areas – Valle Crucis and Foscoe-Grandfather communities.

Speaking recently, Furman said that statutes don’t provide guidance on how such determinations are made.

“In the cases of Valle Crucis and Foscoe Grandfather, those communities formed ‘community councils’ pursuant to a policy established by the then county commissioners in 1986, and in 1990 requested the Commissioners to adopt zoning ordinances for those communities,” Furman wrote in an email.

“The Commissioners were convinced that the majority of the citizens of those communities were in favor of that action. That belief will be an essential element of any such future actions, should they be taken, whether or not a community council is involved. As the statute states, the decision will be made so as to best serve the public interest. Should this option be pursued, the statutes require that the Planning Board review and comment, and that the Commissioners conduct an additional public hearing.”

Here’s an article dated December 1990 about those two communities becoming zoned.