House resurrects, passes Boone ETJ bill

Less than 24 hours after it was voted down in the House Government Committee, a bill to strip the town of Boone of its powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction was resurrected, scheduled, and approved on the House floor.

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Laura Leslie
RALEIGH, N.C. — Less than 24 hours after it was voted down in the House Government Committee, a bill to strip the town of Boone of its powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction was resurrected by the same committee and moved quickly to the House floor for a vote.  

Senate Bill 865 bans Boone from exercising its ETJ powers as of Jan. 1, 2015.

The measure lost a vote for a favorable motion Monday night, 12-15. It reappeared as a late addition to the committee's agenda Tuesday. 

In general practice, a bill that loses a committee vote is considered dead. Rep. Winkie Wilkins, D-Person, asked committee Chairman Rep. Mike Stone, R-Lee, how the bill had resurfaced. 

"It did not get a favorable report, but it did not get an unfavorable report," Stone said. "He would like an opportunity to have his bill heard again because there were members who were not here who wanted to vote for it."

"Explain what consequences the 12-15 vote had yesterday if the bill just suddenly appears on the calendar again," Wilkins countered. 

Senate special counsel Gerry Cohen said the bill wasn't actually dead after Monday's vote – just in parliamentary limbo. 

If the committee had voted to give the bill an unfavorable report – something North Carolina lawmakers almost never do – it would have been dead, Cohen said. But because the bill merely lost a vote for a favorable report, it remained on the committee calendar to await further action.

The motion for a favorable report is renewable, pointed out Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, so it can be made more than once. 

Boone sits in a valley, surrounded by higher land. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Dan Soucek, R-Watauga, said the Board of Adjustment, which wields the town's extraterritorial powers, had declared large ETJ areas steep-slope zones and therefore not open for development. 

Soucek accused town leaders of abusing their powers and stacking the governing board with town-friendly appointees. 

"There is no real representation for anybody in the ETJ who does not want regulation,” he said. “[ETJ residents] want some relief from the basically tyrannical power this town exercises."

If the measure becomes law, Boone would be the first town in the state to have its powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction stripped. 

Because Watauga County has no zoning ordinance, the move would essentially open the area around town to unregulated development.

"The people of Watauga County have the right to petition their county commissioners to talk about zoning or not," said Soucek.

The bill passed 18-16, with two Republicans voting against it: Reps. James Langdon, R-Johnston, and Mitch Setzer, R-Catawba. Many of the Republican committee members who were not present for the Monday vote were rounded up for the second try.

Rep. John Faircloth, R-Guilford, voted against the measure Monday night but said Tuesday he had changed his mind after further research, saying he believed Boone had "improperly used" its powers of extraterritorial jurisdiction.

"I don’t think this is the right venue to settle this. It should be settled in Boone or in that county," Faircloth added. "But it’s not being settled there, and so it’s here." 

House leaders rushed it to the floor Tuesday afternoon, a move Rep. Grier Martin, D-Wake, called "abusive." 

The bill won preliminary House approval 65-47 with little debate after House Rules Chairman Tim Moore cut off the debate and tabled an amendment.

As a local bill, it does not require the governor's signature. If it passes its final House vote Wednesday unamended, it will become law. 

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