09/20/13 — Walnut Creek asks county to eye zoning

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Walnut Creek asks county to eye zoning

By Steve Herring
Published in News on September 20, 2013 1:46 PM

Support for zoning, much less countywide zoning, is not something that Wayne County commissioners often hear.

But Tuesday it was among the top issues Walnut Creek Village Council members brought with them to their joint meeting with commissioners at the Walnut Creek Country Club.

Also discussed were fire protection and emergency communications, protecting property values and promoting Wayne County.

Thursday's meeting was the sixth of seven that county commissioners scheduled with the county's municipalities. The final meeting is Sept. 30 at 8 a.m. with the Goldsboro City Council.

As he has at the previous meetings, commission Chairman Steve Keen said the county is preparing to launch work on a comprehensive land use plan and needs to know what is going on in the county's municipalities.

"A big concern of all municipalities in Wayne County is we don't have countywide zoning," Walnut Creek Councilman Russ Prys said. "Walnut Creek is probably the only municipality in the county that does not have extra-territorial jurisdiction. So we have no control of the environment around us. Yet we have a property value of $160 million. To us that is significant. To the county it is significant also.

"If the wrong industry were to develop in proximity to Walnut Creek, it could drive property values down. I think we know what those industries might be. Name them if you wish."

Changes in state law have all but removed the authority to annex and control the area around a municipality, Prys said.

"So for us, the only protection that we have is from the county. We have no protection ourselves. With an ETJ, we could control a mile (surrounding the village limits). So it is very, very important to us that the county look at countywide zoning to protect municipalities like us from the wrong industries coming in and encroaching on our boundaries."

The key to addressing "pushback" on zoning and/or ETJs is to explain the process, County Manager Lee Smith said. It has to be explained so people understand that the goal is to protect them and their property, not to take their property rights.

Keen said those concerns are why the county needs Walnut Creek and the other municipalities at the table.

"We are really self-sufficient except for our fire protection," Mayor Darrell Horne said. "We have our own police department. We used to have our own sewer system. It became too costly to continue to operate it. We signed a contract with Goldsboro, and now we pump all of our sewage to Goldsboro."

There is little for police to do in the village, but when needed, the Wayne County Sheriff's Office has been quick to respond and has been good to work with, Village Administrator Lou Cooke said.

"I would say that as mayor that one of the challenges that we have had over the last several years is not having our own fire department," Horne said. "We have to contract with Elroy. I have all the respect for our volunteer fire departments. The county revalued (property) and the prices of houses and land at Walnut Creek increased, and our cost of fire protection has gone up almost 30 some percent, and we haven't raised our taxes."

The village is currently paying $102,000 annually for fire protection for fewer than 900 residents and 300 homes, he said.

Property values in the village probably exceed all other areas of the county, Prys noted. Even vacant lots are valued at about $50,000, he said, and the village is getting no relief for that.

"We feel that based on the value of the property, and the liability, that we are being unfairly assessed," he said.

Councilman Danny Jackson said he is concerned about continuing problems with the county's new communications system.

"It is really not working well for us, and that is a real concern of our police department," he said.

Commissioner Wayne Aycock agreed that problems persist with the system and that the Walnut Creek area is of particular concern. However, he said work is continuing on the system and that a solution should be forthcoming.

Mayor Pro Tem Greg Ricker said over the last 12 to 18 months, the village has been engaged in long-range planning. Hurricane Floyd did a lot of damage in 1999 to the dam's spillway at the village, he said.

"So what we have done is we put together a fiscal policy about 12 months ago, actually two years ago, where we are putting a nice-sized chunk away in our budget to help us with events like this when they happen," Ricker said. "But it has brought an awareness that we have to be proactive. The tax rate has remained the same because we have realized we have to stiffen up our reserves a little bit to prepare ourselves."

Councilman Stoney Jackson said he would like to see the county do more to promote the county and tourism. The village itself is trying to attract younger people, he said.

Keen spoke about the new U.S. 70 Bypass and improvements planned for the existing U.S. 70. He noted that one of the new major intersection is within a few miles of Walnut Creek. Village officials need to look at how that might work to attract more people to their community, he said.

However, board members said that they do not foresee a boom in development in the village because of its higher-priced property and homes.