05/29/13 — Legislators put stop to encroachment

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Legislators put stop to encroachment

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on May 29, 2013 1:46 PM

Lawmakers in Raleigh are continuing to work to protect the state's military bases from encroachment. Just weeks after approving to regulate the building of wind farms in North Carolina, the General Assembly now has approved one bill requiring that bases be notified of zoning changes within five miles, and is about to approve a second limiting structures of more than 200 feet within five miles.

The first bill, which has been ratified and presented to the governor, requires cities and counties to notify base officials of any action that would change the zoning map, the permitted land uses, anything relating to telecommunications towers or windmills, any new major subdivision preliminary plats or increase the size of an approved subdivision by more than 50 percent.

The bill also requires that the notification be given between 10 to 25 days before any public hearing and that military officials be given 30 days to respond with comment or analysis about how the proposed changes might affect operations.

The bill does not say, however, that the city or county must follow that direction from the base -- just that it be taken into consideration.

In Goldsboro and Wayne County, though, such steps are already being taken.

Both county and city officials say they communicate regularly with Seymour Johnson Air Force Base engineer Dennis Goodman, who is actually an ex officio member of the Wayne County Planning Board. Additionally, said county Planning Director Connie Price, other base officials also are given the opportunity to comment on items appearing before the board.

The same also is true for the city, City Manager Scott Stevens said.

"I know we are communicating regularly (with the base) on anything that has to do with the base," he said. "We talk with Dennis. We do keep them abreast and ask questions even if it (issue) is a way off. We make sure that we keep them informed."

Local officials also are already taken steps to mitigate the issue addressed in the second bill regarding tall buildings and structures.

That bill, which also would apply to areas within five miles of a major military installation's boundaries, would prohibit cities and counties from authorizing or anybody from building a structure more than 200 feet tall without the endorsement of the state Building Code Council. It also would prohibit cities and counties from authorizing the provision of utilities to a structure built in violation of the ordinance.

Furthermore, the bill stipulates that for the Building Code Council to approve a tall building or structure, there must be interference with the installation's mission and must have a Determination of No Hazard to Air Navigation from the Federal Aviation Administration.

The county and city, though, already go beyond the scope of that ordinance, having adopted the base's outer horizontal zone that limits a structure's height. The height of structure may ranges from zero feet at the end of the runways to 500 feet several miles from the base, Price said. The rules are not as restrictive on the sides of the base, but the height limit is still 500 feet dropping to 150 feet nearer the base.

Still, bill sponsor Rep. John Bell, R-Wayne, explained that the Legislature felt such steps were necessary in order to make sure all of North Carolina's military installations were equally protected -- the same reasoning for the earlier bill requiring base notifications.

"We need a new and uniform policy. Every community handles this differently. We learned our lesson from the wind farm issue," he said, citing an earlier bill that effectively halted a proposed wind energy farm along the coast that would have interfered with training runs coming out of Seymour Johnson Air Force Base. "These don't necessarily stop anything, but it does force them to go through the permitting process. It's to make sure that nothing sneaks up and falls between the cracks."

After all, he said, it is the government's responsibility to protect the state's military interest.

"The military, we've found through this whole process, cannot say no. They cannot deny or approve a project. Their voice is limited to issues of national security, and a TV tower a cellphone tower or an apartment building are not matters of national security. But what they can do is pick and move," Bell said.

He said he expects the bill to be ratified by the General Assembly soon, once language is included to grandfather in existing structures.

Overall, he said he believes the Legislature this year has taken a number of important steps to protect the military infrastructure in North Carolina -- as well as make life easier for active servicemen and women and veterans, including work on bills relating to hunting and fishing licenses, as well as allowing military truck drivers to take those certifications into civilian jobs.

"I think we have, in terms of preparing for the next BRAC and making sure that North Carolina is the most military friendly state in the nation, done a lot of good things," Bell said.

-- Staff Writer Steve Herring contributed to this report.