05/22/08 — Village asks neighbors' opinions on ETJ change

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Village asks neighbors' opinions on ETJ change

By Anessa Myers
Published in News on May 22, 2008 2:28 PM

WALNUT CREEK -- Walnut Creek officials want to know what their neighbors think about establishing an extraterritorial jurisdiction that would govern development within a half mile of the village boundary.

A public hearing on the issue will be held at the next Village Council meeting on Wednesday at 7:30 p.m. at the village hall.

Most municipalities have an extraterritorial jurisdiction area surrounding them, sometimes up to a mile. The creation of the ETJ allows the municipality to oversee what is built in that area.

Village Administrator Lou Cook said Walnut Creek is simply trying to protect its property values, the same as other municipalities.

"The only intent of ETJ is to protect development of areas within the half-mile zone to ensure property values are not compromised," he said. "This is a positive step, not only for our residents, but to those in that ETJ area as well."

Mayor Darrell Horne said establishing the ETJ is an issue that has been talked about for years.

"They had another public hearing on it about nine years ago. This is just something we are considering and wanted to get public opinion on," he said. "We've never even voted on it. But before you can do it (have jurisdiction), you have to have authorization."

The state legislature has to approve the creation of such an extraterritorial jurisdiction.

"... My whole purpose of doing this was just to see, not only how the residents of Walnut Creek felt, but also what all the other people around the village thought about it. From what I've heard, most people are for it. ... I mean I wouldn't want to go and have one of our legislators introduce this without having some public comment."

Rep. Van Braxton, D-Lenoir, whom Cook asked to sponsor the proposed jurisdiction bill, said village officials need to ask the people what they want.

"I wouldn't do anything without a public hearing. I really want to make sure we're all on the same page," Braxton said. "When something like that starts, there are a lot of questions. All the questions need to be asked and answered, and we need to see where people stand on it."

Any legislative action on the proposal would have to wait at least until next year. The deadline for filing bills for this session has already passed.

"If they an make an agreement that seems to work for everyone, then we can possibly do something for 2009. There won't be anything done this session," Braxton said.

But there already is opposition to the proposal.

Landowners surrounding the village have not been formally contacted. That is not required by law until the village decides to proceed with the establishment of the zone. Some of those landowners who learned about the proposal by word of mouth say they don't like it.

"The statute says that you've got to notify the people within the proposed ETJ, but we haven't done that because we don't plan on doing it right now because we can't do it. If the legislators granted us that authority, and the council voted to do it, then we would have to send a letter telling everyone about it," Horne said.

Still, the village's actions have left some with a bad taste in their mouths.

Walnut Creek resident and county farmer and landowner Thomas Uzzell said village officials should have done more to get the word out.

"There was nothing in the newsletter about it, nothing in the newsletter about a public hearing for it," he said.

Jim Herring, one of the original founders of the village and also an outside landowner, said he feels a responsibility to both village residents and their neighbors. He said his chief concern is the way the issue has been handled so far.

"The people in the affected area, most of them were completely unaware that they might do this," Herring said.

He said that creation of the ETJ would affect more than 600 homes -- many of whom chose not to live within the confines of the village.

"Most of these people can afford to live in Walnut Creek. They just chose not to. Many of them didn't want to pay the village tax. People like the county. They like living in the county, and they like having the freedom with their land that the county gives them," he said.

There are some who can't afford to live in Walnut Creek, he said, but they have "just as much right to protect their livelihood and their land as the rest do."

Herring said he understands that village officials want to establish this jurisdiction to protect property values from decreasing. But he said residents living in the proposed ETJ have the same goal of protecting the value of their property.

"But we aren't fools," he said.

Uzzell agreed.

"We're not going to put something on our property that's going to devalue it," he said.

"We want to be able to do it (protect property values) on our own. You lose that freedom with this ETJ," Herring said.

Herring said although he understands the reasons village officials are giving for the ETJ, he said believes there is another agenda on their minds -- annexation.

"There is only one reason to control zoning in this area, and that is to add to the tax base," he said. "Why would they want to administrate over all of these homes and not get any income out of it?"

Richard Ducker, an associate professor of public law and government at the University of North Carolina's Institute of Government, said concerns about the creation of such jurisdictions often cause concern about eventual annexation.

"One of the traditional rationales is that the municipality establishes ETJ so that they an ensure that land that may become urban is not developed to rural development standards," he said.

Cook, however, said that annexation is not something officials are considering.

"I can assure you of this -- the current Village Council has no intention of annexing any property involuntarily and therefore cannot tax any of these property owners," he said.

Horne said annexation has always been an option, just not one that Walnut Creek has taken.

"We could do forced annexation. We just never have," he said. "One doesn't have anything to do with the other."

The mayor noted that Walnut Creek is the only municipality in Wayne County that does not have an extraterritorial jurisdiction.

"To my knowledge, there isn't another municipality around that doesn't have ETJ. Goldsboro has it. Mount Olive has it. Fremont has it. Pikeville has it," he said. "I can't tell you why we didn't get it when we incorporated. I wasn't here then."

Horne said village officials wanted to have this public hearing as a very preliminary thought and to make sure ETJ was something that these county citizens around the village wanted.

"It's kind of backfired on me to tell you the truth," he said. "Maybe we should have done a better job up front, before the public hearing, to educate people on what it was so people wouldn't just assume stuff. But I think they have already assumed it."

Once the Village Council hears the public's opinion on the matter, council members will decide whether there is enough of a consensus to move forward with the official process which would include another twice-advertised public hearing and mailing all of the affected landowners letters.