Sylva set to expand planning district
By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer
Sylva Town Board members are expected to move forward with plans to make the Allen’s Branch community part of the town’s extra territorial jurisdiction Thursday, Aug. 17. However, several local residents are pushing for the boundary’s lines to be redrawn.
Aldermen are considering creating an extra territorial jurisdiction, or ETJ for short, as a result of a petition dated April 25, 2005. Don and Cathy Arrington, Millard and Charlene Monteith, Scott and Angie Connor and Forrest Bryson called for town leaders to consider placing the community under ETJ “in the absence of any meaningful county zoning.” About 20 local residents are said to support the measure.
An extra territorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, is an area where residential, commercial and industrial land owners do not pay town taxes, but are subject to the same controls as their in-town counterparts. In return the area earns representation on the town’s planning board.
Land use regulations that would apply to the ETJ include Sylva’s subdivision, hillside development, erosion and sediment, flood plane management and stormwater management regulations. Implementing such controls is a way to be proactive about local development, rather than waiting for a situation to arise before responding, said Cathy Arrington, an ETJ supporter.
“We had seen unwanted development in other communities and we live in a nice community,” she said. “My family’s lived here three or four generations, and it’s a nice area that we wanted to preserve and protect.”
In drawing the ETJ, planning board members elected to extend the area’s boundaries the full one-mile from existing town limits as general statue allows. Doing so brought many landowners who had not signed the petition into the ETJ, providing the fuel for a heated meeting with town officials Aug. 7.
Officials had planned for the meeting to be purely informational — to provide an explanation of what an ETJ was and how it could affect residents. However, residents farther up in the quiet community located near town off Chipper Curve Road let it be known that they were not in favor of such regulations.
“All we ask is just don’t do this,” said resident Mary Cook.
Consequently, town planner Jim Aust spent Monday remapping the area under consideration to clearly show who owns what property so that individual owners and town board members can draw ETJ lines parcel by parcel until an acceptable boundary is reached. ETJ boundaries must follow man-made lines such as property boundaries or roads. Boundaries cannot follow natural features such as ridgelines. The plan appears to offer a compromise of residents’ interests.
“We agree with the neighbors at the top of the mountain,” Cathy Arrington said. “We think that the lines should be redrawn as well. We never asked for the line to be drawn to the top of the mountain.”
Redrawing boundaries will have an added bonus for Aust, the town’s only building inspector, fire marshal, and zoning administrator. Town limits currently total 3.2 square miles. The ETJ map as originally drawn would potentially add one-third to the area Aust must service — without providing any tax revenue to town coffers.
While many local residents worry that becoming Sylva’s ETJ could lead to annexation, town leaders have said there is little validity to such fears. The town could not afford to provide water and sewer service to the steep mountain community — a contractual precedent set with previous Sylva annexations.
Where the land use and zoning of an ETJ might help property values — hundreds of acres of prime real estate at the top of Allen’s Branch near the Blue Ridge Parkway and Great Smoky Mountains National Park — the land is too far from town limits to qualify, Aust said. For now, the land is undeveloped.
“The first number one rule about pursuing ETJ in an area is you have some projected development growth in an area you need to get control over,” Aust said. “We don’t have any of that up there.”
Rather than bring in such a large area for the town’s first ETJ, Aust advocated looking down N.C. 107, Sylva’s commercial strip. The area not only would be easier to administrate, as commercial enterprises are more used to dealing with land-use regulations, it would most likely be a more beneficial annexation for the town in the future.
The town board will discuss the proposed ETJ area at its meeting at 10 a.m. Thursday, Aug. 17, at Town Hall.