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Sylva mulls over creating ETJ

By Sarah Kucharski • Staff Writer

Residents from Jackson County’s Allen’s Branch community said they didn’t know exactly what Sylva town officials were talking about during an informational session regarding plans to bring the area under the town’s extra territorial jurisdiction held Monday night — but they didn’t like it.

An extra territorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, is an area where residents — residential, commercial and industrial — 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.

An ETJ can extend up to one mile from existing town limits. Residents against the measure called enforcement of town zoning laws — which also would come with subdivision, hillside development, erosion and sediment, flood plane management and stormwater management regulations — the first step down a slippery slope.

“I do know that zoning is the first step to annexation,” said Mary Cook.

Annexation would lead to Allen’s Branch residents paying Sylva’s town taxes. However, town attorney Eric Ridenour looked to assuage residents’ fears, saying that if the town were to annex the community it would have to provide the same services as it has to other communities — namely water and sewer.

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“We don’t have that kind of money,” Ridenour said.

In 2004, the town decided not to move ahead with the annexation of a development on Cope Creek, a road that cuts between Highway 107 and U.S. 19-23. Developer Carlton Brown proposed voluntary annexation in return for the town paying to run sewer lines to the property. However, once the numbers were in, town leaders found that the cost of running sewer lines and supplying municipal services such as garbage pick up were greater than the tax revenue generated by the annexation.

Sylva town leaders have debated whether water and sewer should be considered a municipal service. It is run by Tuckasegee Water and Sewer Authority, which is not run by the town. At the time, David Lawrence, Professor of Public Law and Government at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, said that the law it not clear-cut when annexation involves outside authorities owning the service. An attorney could provide an opinion on the matter, and town leaders would have to decide whether or not they agreed.

However, the town has written water and sewer service into its annexation contracts in the past, an action that most likely has set precedence for any future annexation contracts, said Mayor Brenda Oliver.

The proposal to make Allen’s Branch an ETJ came about as a result of a handful of local residents’ requests. In 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.”

Residents farther up Allen’s Branch didn’t argue with the signers’ request, but they did ask that only the lower part of the community where those asking for an ETJ lived be considered. General statue allows towns to extend an ETJ up to one mile from existing town limits. When the planning board first looked at creating an ETJ in the Allen’s Branch area, they went ahead and drew the border one mile out — which now has proven a source of contention.

Residents expressed concerns during Monday night’s meeting that they would not be able to put trailers on their property, a prohibited dwelling under the proposed R-1 zoning.

Town planner Jim Aust explained that variances are available that could allow residents to have a trailer — particularly if they could not afford anything else. Trailers — and any other types of homes or land uses for that matter — that currently exist are grandfathered in, meaning that they are not subject to the zoning rules. If a house burned down, then the new house would have to be built according to town regulations, which include setbacks from the property line and height restrictions.

“I don’t want that. I don’t think anybody here does,” said Cook, a local resident.

Residents said that it appeared that being a part of Sylva’s ETJ offered them little benefit. However, Oliver said that an ETJ would help protect residents from the type of battle the Tuckasegee community is facing. A rock quarry is proposed to go in near the intersection of N.C. 107 and N.C. 281.

Sylva town board members will consider whether to move ahead with ETJ proceedings at their regularly scheduled meeting at 10 a.m. Aug. 17 at the Sylva Town Hall. If board members decide to pursue creation of an ETJ, the area’s boundary line can still be redrawn. A public hearing will be held before a final decision is made about whether an ETJ will be created and how it is drawn.

“All we ask is just don’t do this,” Cook said.

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