Council mulls ETJ issue

Published 9:19 pm Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Washington’s City Council will research the possibility of reducing some areas of the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction before providing guidance on the matter to city staff at its May 14 meeting.

During its meeting Monday, the council discussed a proposal to reduce the ETJ and what that could mean to the city and people who live in the existing ETJ.

The extraterritorial jurisdiction is a zoning overlay that allows a municipality to impose its zoning regulations outside its corporate limits to help it prepare for future growth. It’s also the legal ability of a government to exercise its authority beyond its normal boundaries. An ETJ takes in areas the city believes is somewhat urban in nature and likely would be targeted for future annexation.

The three areas proposed to be removed from the city’s ETJ include an area south of the Pamlico River that includes Whichard’s Beach Road, an area on U.S. Highway 17 north of the city near the Hunter’s Pointe Sporting Clays complex and an area that’s mostly farmland along Cherry Road and Corsica Road between Market Street Extension and Slatestone Road.

Reducing the city’s ETJ could save the city money because it would not have to enforce the city’s zoning and land-use regulations in the areas removed from the city’s ETJ, said John Rodman, the city’s planning and development director.

“Let me give you some figures. What we are trying to do is balance some areas that we may not think have a higher potential for development,” Rodman said. “Can we better use those man-hours that our inspectors are doing or our planning staff is doing? Can we use those man-hours to concentrate more on what we think are high-development areas? So, we’re looking at it that way.”

Councilman Doug Mercer voiced concern that reducing the size of the ETJ could remove some protections that residents in the ETJ now have. He posed as hypothetical situation.

“I’m living in — I don’t care which one of the zones you’re talking about, one, two or three — I have come in and I have complied with all the city regulations and built according to whatever the regulations are,” Mercer said. “Now, you come along and you say, ‘Well, I’m going to take you out of my ETJ.’ So, that eliminates any of the restrictions that the city has imposed in that area for 25-plus years. Now, I can come and buy the lot right next door and I can put up a tin shack, and it’s subject to no regulations whatsoever. I’m sitting here right next door in a $250,000 house. Next door is a $500 tin shack, simply because we have eliminated our control authority over that piece of property. When I built my house, I built it under the assumption that I was in an area that the city was going to adequately protect for me, and now you tell me I’m not going to protect you. I think we are doing the people who have complied with our regulations for the last 25 years a disservice if we all of sudden kick them out (of the ETJ).”

Mercer said what would further compound the situation of removing property owners now in the city’s ETJ and leaving them without zoning and land-use protections they have now is that Beaufort County has no zoning regulations. Property owners removed from the city’s ETJ would “fall out of any kind of protection they’ve been enjoying for 25-plus years.”

Councilman Bobby Roberson also voiced concern similar to Mercer’s. Roberson noted that most counties in North Carolina have some form of zoning and land-use regulations.

“So, Beaufort County hasn’t stepped to the plate and adopted a zoning ordinance,” he said. “Councilman Mercer, my advice to the county commissioners is that if we move that area out (of the ETJ), maybe the county should entertain getting in land-use controls like the rest of the 80 or 90 counties that we have in the state of North Carolina to protect those Beaufort County citizens which elect them into office.”

“Councilman Roberson, you’re preaching to the choir,” replied Mercer. “We’ve been saying that to the county commissioners for the last 10 years. It hasn’t gone anywhere, and it will not go anywhere for a number of years to come. I just hate to see us put citizens that we have protected for this long period of time cast out with the bath water and say, ‘Guys, fend for yourself.’”

“I don’t mind protecting them as long as the ultimate goal is to annex the property,” Roberson said. “If you’re urban in character … it should be inside the corporate limits of the city. What I’m seeing for the future is that we are doing away with those kind of regulations, and the burden is going to be on the city if we don’t step up and do something in terms of annexation and the ETJ.”

Mayor Archie Jennings weighed in, saying, “As we know, that one’s (annexation) being bandied about in the court system, so we’ll have to wait and see.”

There was some question about whether if property owners in the ETJ would pay more for flood insurance if they were removed from the ETJ. The city participates in the community rating system, which is part of the National Flood Insurance Program, but Beaufort County does not.

Under CRS, the city is rated as a seven, with the county rated a 10 because it does not participate.

Those county residents who do not live in a municipality are paying full rates for flood insurance, Rodman said. Washington residents and those who live in the city’s ETJ are entitled to a 15-percent reduction in their flood-insurance premiums, Rodman said. Residents removed from the city’s ETJ could face paying higher premiums, he said.

“I have not verified that,” Rodman said.

About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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