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Sylva extends reach, approves ETJ expansion

In an effort to assure aesthetic uniformity beyond town borders, Sylva’s commissioners have begun expanding the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction. The first phase of the expansion was approved following a Sept. 4 public hearing, but not without some spirited back-and-forth between town board members and property owners concerned about the impact of an expanded ETJ. 


“Why do I need anybody to help me decide what to do on my 21 acres?” pressed Todd Mathis, who owns property in the area commissioners expanded the extraterritorial jurisdiction into. “It’s mine, let me alone and let me do what I want with my 21 acres.”

Sylva’s ETJ expansions — phase one concentrates on areas along N.C. 107 to the boarder of the town of Webster — mean that properties within the concerned areas will have to adhere to the town’s zoning regulations. Such properties, however, will not receive any services from Sylva, and the town will not collect any taxes from the property owners. 

The handful of property owners in attendance during the public hearing urged the board to reconsider their intents of expanding the extraterritorial jurisdiction, voicing concern that the move would negatively affect them. 

“I don’t want the county coming out there and telling me I can’t ride my damn mules,” Mathis said. 

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Sylva Mayor Maurice Moody assured Mathis that the move would not change anything insofar as his mules were concerned.

“Don’t worry,” Moody told him. “I’ve got horses, and they’re in town.”

“And I’ve got chickens,” added Commissioner Mary Gelbaugh.

Much of the property involved with the phase one expansion is commercial, with some residential units sprinkled about. The Rivercrest residential subdivision is also included. Commercial areas will be held to the town’s B-3 zone standards, while residential will be held to R-1.

Sylva Town Manager Paige Roberson explained that residential properties would not be impacted by the expanded jurisdiction, but the measure would ensure that businesses in the area would be held to certain standards, such as those requiring new development to install sidewalks.

“The point is just to preserve and protect properties around town,” Roberson said. 

Several Rivercrest residents in attendance asked why their subdivision was included in the ETJ expansion at all. They asked about “hidden catches” and the chance that Sylva might attempt an annexation of the area targeted by the expansion — a measure that would bring tax and services consequences. 

“I think it’s just a little bit of discomfort,” said Rivercrest resident Rose Bauguess.  “Is this a step to something else down the road?”

Officials assured the property owners that the town had no designs on annexations. They stressed that the extraterritorial jurisdiction expansion was simply a way to steer development, attain uniformity and ensure that inappropriate enterprises — an example of a hog farm was bandied about — did not spring up on the fringes of the town limits. 

“It’s good to have regulation under control so it doesn’t end up in a hodgepodge of goofiness,” explained town attorney Eric Ridenour.

“It really is important for residents,” said Commissioner Lynda Sossamon. “It’s just to make where you live a better place.”

Roberson explained that the town could not take any action that impacted only businesses. She also said an expanded ETJ would mean that Sylva’s planning board — the body that vetted and suggested the expansions — would need to add representatives who reside in the expanded area. The Rivercrest subdivision, she said, was included to ensure that there was a large enough willing and available pool of residents to serve on the planning board. 

That was a tough sell, however, with Rivercrest residents pointing out that people also resided in the commercial area targeted in the expansion. Roberson’s assertion that the subdivision added a much larger pool of potential planning board members — “there are not as many parcels above 107 as there is below it” — did little to change any minds in the meeting room. 

“It sounds to me, the way this discussion is going, you don’t need Rivercrest at all,” said Jan Chervenak. 

Wrapping the public hearing, Mayor Moody assured the public that “we understand all of your points of view.” The board then voted unanimously to expanded Sylva’s extraterritorial jurisdiction down 107. 

“I just want to say I’ve wrestled with this a lot this week,” Commissioner Gelbaugh said prior to the vote. “I understand your concerns. I’ve really weighed this hard and I do think it’s protective and not to hurt. And it really takes a lot for me to say that.”

With phase one of Sylva’s ETJ plans passed, the board will next tackle phases two and three. Phase two will focus on expanding the town’s extraterritorial jurisdiction up Ashville Highway, or U.S. 23 Business, in preparation for development there. Phase three will involve the Cope Creek and Dillardtown areas. Public hearings for those phases have yet to be scheduled.


Cement and plywood

The Sylva Planning Board was recently asked to assess a possible prohibition on buildings sporting a metal-siding skin. Town commissioners had suggested that such structures did not fit in with and degraded Sylva’s downtown area. 

After review, the planning board has suggested that the town enact an ordinance disallowing buildings with a metal siding or vinyl siding exterior, as well as those with a concrete-block exterior in the town’s B-1 district. 

The board also advised that commissioners require downtown storefront windows to be plywood-free. Some properties along Main Street have plywood covering windows, particularly second-floor windows; the wood proved difficult for firefighters to bypass as they worked to fight a downtown fire last month. 

“The thought is to try to keep more buildings from catching on fire if we have another fire,” Sylva Town Manager Paige Roberson said. 

These issues are slated for a Sept. 18 public hearing. 

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