Chair Jimmy Hodges
(1) Will it endanger the public health or safety?Having watched and participated in struggles over land-use planning in Watauga since the 1990s, my enthusiasm for this enormous leap forward is based on an appreciation for history and for the ironies contained therein. We wanted a special-use permitting process when the HILU ordinance was first passed more than a decade ago, and the reigning powers at that time looked at us like we had tails. The reigning powers now are still Republican, but...
(2) Will it injure the value of adjoining or abutting property?
(3) Will it be in harmony with the area in which it is located?
(4) Will it be in conformity with the land-use plan, thoroughfare plan, or other plan officially adopted by the County Commission?
Things changed. The citizens rose up and made themselves heard. What the current County Commission heard loud and clear (and as someone this morning said), "We don't feel safe in this county." They should feel considerably safer this morning.
The original HILU came about because of the threat of an asphalt plant on the Roby Greene Road. It was a grudging ordinance. Powerful forces wanted no land-use regs of any kind. A county committee made up equally of "zoners" and "no-zoners" argued and jaw-boned and negotiated for months, and what emerged eventually was watered-down and weak.
Another asphalt plant threat suddenly emerged this year, and what has happened now is not weak, not compromised away into insignificance. It has teeth now. It remains to be seen how it will work, but the citizens who banded together and formed High Country Watch deserve praise and congratulations for moving this county forward light-years from where it was.
DAN SOUCEK & THE LAW OF UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES
Realistically, part of the pressure that began to mount on the County Commission to change the HILU was prompted by the power-grab obligingly engineered by Senator Dan Soucek to take away Boone's extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), at the behest of major developers who despised Boone's land-use planning regs.
|Sen. Dan Soucek|
But the upset among ETJ residents living in fear of what could happen to their investments after Soucek's law passed was certainly part of the increased public awareness and the energy that funneled into High Country Watch.
That struggle isn't over, of course. Soucek told the Watauga Democrat, "I fully intend to ask [the Attorney General's Office] to appeal. The residents of the ETJ shouldn’t have their properties subject to a town council that they didn’t vote for. They’re my constituents, and I will continue to fight for their property rights."
Whose property rights? The individuals who originally induced Mr. Soucek to file his bill. The rest of you can, well, suck it!
Soucek wants to see this case reach the NC Supreme Court, where a 5-4 conservative Republican majority ought (he thinks) uphold his power-grab (as it recently upheld giving public tax dollars to private schools, another of Mr. Soucek's pet projects). He's possibly right. Considering the blistering he just experienced from the three-judge panel, we don't know. But by its action this morning, the County Commission rendered at least some of the fear among ETJ residents moot. (County regs do not, however, address steep-slope development, which is a major feature of Boone's regs.)
Ironically, Soucek helped move Watauga County miles down the road toward effective land-use planning. Also ironically, it took a new Republican County Commission Chair, Jimmy Hodges, to swing the vote. Nathan Miller would never have taken the county where its gone today.
Of course, we are realistic. Only a limited number of uses are covered by HILU:
Category 1: Asphalt Plants, Cement Mixing Facilities, Quarries/Stone Crushers, Chemical Manufacturing, Chemical Storage Facilities, and Explosives Manufacturing.
Category 2. Automotive Graveyards, Propane or Gasoline Bulk Storage Facilities, Chip Mills, Electricity Generating Facilities (excluding Wind and Solar Power Farms), and Junk/Scrap Yards.
Category 3. Fuel Oil Bulk Storage Facilities, Electric Substations, Commercial/Industrial Development with aggregate building footprint 50,000 square feet or greater, Recycling Facilities, and Solar Power Farms.Still to be subjected to special use permits and county land-use planning are high-density housing projects (The Cottages, anyone?), but we've taken a step in the right direction.