By Jesse Wood
June 4, 2014. Mayor Andy Ball and fellow town council members will meet with Sen. Dan Soucek in Raleigh on Wednesday afternoon at 3:30 p.m. to discuss a bill that Soucek filed last week. Ball and the others are traveling to Raleigh for the annual Town Hall Day, and Ball said he reached out to Soucek to meet and talk about Senate Bill 865 while in town.
The bill would strip the Town of Boone’s ETJ (extraterritorial jurisdiction) rights if it were to pass in the N.C. General Assembly. The bill only pertains to Boone and would go into effect Jan. 1, 2015.
(In 2012, a similar bill filed by Soucek died in the House while the focus of the legislature turned its attention to the budget in the final hours of the short session, and last year, a bill striving to eliminate ETJs across the state stalled in the House.)
Soucek said the bill was an “effort to protect property owners” and was filed in response to one of the dozen resolutions adopted by the Watauga County Republican Party at its annual convention in March. The resolution stated that the local GOP would support Soucek and State Rep. Jonathan Jordan’s efforts to “provide a legislative solution to this injustice.”
In a release, Soucek noted North Carolina adopted statewide laws in 1959 to allow municipalities to regulate areas of up to two miles to compensate for the rapid growth of cities and mentioned that the Town of Boone has controlled ETJs for decades “with no efforts toward annexation.”
“This has created a system that allows for what I call regulation without representation, where the Town of Boone is regulating county residents who are not permitted to vote to hold the town officials accountable,” Soucek said in the release.
Speaking by phone, Soucek said that the town has “grossly abused” and is “overstepping” the original intent of state law regarding ETJs. He also mentioned the town’s “unreasonable” regulations. When asked for local officials or individuals that contacted Soucek in support of this bill, Soucek said he wouldn’t name any names for fear of personal “attacks” on those individuals.
Mayor Ball said he doesn’t know who in the town is behind this bill. Although, he mentioned that Nathan Miller, a town lawyer who has represented clients in the ETJ and chair of the Watauga County Board of Commissioners, and the Templeton Family have been the most vocal critics of the ETJ around Boone.
Ball mentioned that he was still waiting to hear from Soucek on why Boone is being targeted and what makes Boone “different from the 540 other towns and cities” across the state that have the opportunity to exercise its ETJ rights.
“All have the ability and a lot of them do it. So we are unsure why we are different from everyone else and why our powers should be different,” Ball said, adding that Soucek has not been in contact with town officials or town staff regarding this bill.
Ball said the ETJ preserves neighborhoods by providing a buffer between organized development in town and less regulation outside of town. He said that the town wouldn’t have any authority to investigate and regulate high-impact businesses that disturb neighborhoods without the ETJ.
Ball also disagreed with Soucek’s assessment that residents don’t need the ETJ because of policies and ordinances currently existing within the county.
“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. “If the county had zoning countywide it would be a different story, but we don’t have that situation.”
Watauga County Planning Director Joe 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, adding, however, that the county only zones a couple areas – Valle Crucis and Foscoe-Grandfather communities.
Boone Planning Director Bill Bailey mentioned that the town has open investigations related to concerns from citizens in the ETJ about high-impact businesses operating near their neighborhoods. Bailey mentioned that his office and town council has heard from folks in the Sunny Knoll Acres and Seven Oaks communities regularly about two particular businesses.
Radford Quarries off of Bamboo Road is in the Sunny Knoll Acres vicinity. Bailey said that Radford Quarries has expanded beyond their permit and has obliterated the buffer between the neighborhood and quarry. Bailey said he has contacted the state about violations.
Bailey also referenced the town’s investigation and citizens’ concerns about the Boone Ready-Mix concrete plant that used to operate on Seven Oaks Road. The town shut the plant down after it was ruled to have lost its grandfathered status for nonconforming usage in the community zoned single-family residential.
Without the ETJ, Bailey said those citizens in the ETJ would have had “no recourse.”
“They could complain to the county, but with no countywide zoning, there is really no enforcement they could handle. I guess they could try to send a letter to the offending property owner and try to smooth the situation out. But no legal recourse, unless some state law is being broken,” Bailey said.
While residents of Seven Oaks and Sunny Knoll Acres communities consider, in the words of Soucek, the ETJ has their “greatest concern,” others like David Risk, a property owner in the ETJ, are frustrated with the town regulations.
Risk lives in the Deerfield area at the end of the Boone Golf Club course. He owns 10 acres of “almost perfectly flat” land. The property – “as good as you’ll ever see” – was purchased in the late ‘80s, and he built himself a house.
Now, Risk, who is a contractor, wants to build up-to-three more houses and parcel off his acreage to folks that want to have a house built and live on that property. He says the town’s regulations curb his ability to do that.
The property is in a watershed, and Risk said the town’s ordinances will only allow him develop 10 percent of the property, while the county would allow 29 percent usage. Risk mentioned that if you have 44,000 square feet of property and you can only develop 10 percent of the property, “you can’t build a house” because that 10 percent must also include the driveway.
“I know there are some factors that I would consider that you shouldn’t build on. I know and understand that,” Risk said.
“You know, the regulations that the town has opposed to the county’s are just a lot tougher and more bureaucracy,” Risk said.
Risk mentioned that he’s met with town planning officials in the past and could have done some of the things he wanted to do with his land.
“There were just so many rules I would have had to abide by that it wasn’t feasible for me to do it, but with the county, I could have readily done it,” Risk said.