LELAND — Doubling Leland’s control over land outside its corporate limits is worth “millions” to the town, one town councilman said Monday.
Leland is in pursuit of establishing an extra-territorial jurisdiction — or ETJ — on land within a roughly one-mile radius outside its existing corporate limits. ETJs, once established, grant a municipality planning control beyond city limits, including increased control over planning and zoning. (View the full map at the bottom of this article).
To do this, the growing town needs Brunswick County’s permission — permission the county previously indicated it’s not interested in granting.
The town is revving up efforts to persuade county gatekeepers an ETJ is needed. At a Council agenda meeting Monday, Leland staff and Council agreed to organize a forthcoming workshop on the effort, first initiated by Councilman Michael Callahan.
“This has the potential to allow us to — I would say –control some zoning or at least have an impact on zoning even outside the boundaries of Leland,” Callahan said Monday. “Getting that authority — what is that worth to us? I would imagine it’s worth several million dollars.”
Leland cannot gain an ETJ without the county’s permission. North Carolina state statutes empower municipalities to establish ETJs sans approval if the relevant county: 1) Doesn’t have a land subdivision ordinance; (2) doesn’t have a zoning ordinance; and 3) isn’t enforcing State Building Code.
In Brunswick County, all three criteria are met, meaning Leland needs to improve its sales pitch to get the county on board.
“What is it that’s going to make, or convince rather, Brunswick County to loosen up and let us do this?” Councilwoman Pat Batleman asked at the Monday meeting.
Brunswick County coming around?
Leland first formalized its effort to get an ETJ in December. Council approved authorizing Mayor Brenda Bozeman to send Brunswick County a letter requesting the ETJ, which Bozeman sent to Chairman Frank Williams on Jan. 4. In the letter, Bozeman cited the town’s rapid growth as reasoning for being mindful of future planning efforts.
“The unique municipal boundaries and natural geography within the county can pose challenges when it comes to uniform land planning, however this is not unique to Brunswick County,” Bozeman’s letter states.
Prior to the formal request, Brunswick County indicated it “had no interest in providing an ETJ for Leland,” Leland’s manager, David Hollis, said in December.
This time around, it appears the county is at least entertaining the thought. Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy responded to Bozeman’s letter, requesting additional information about the ETJ, including the town’s areas of interest in seeking it.
On Monday, Hollis requested direction from Council on how to move forward with the request. Leland’s director of planning and inspections, Ben Andrea, presented a map depicting the town’s potential ETJ.
“Primarily [the ETJ] will allow for better coordinated and controlled growth in areas that are on the fringe with the town’s limits,” Andrea said.
Zoning differences, annexation
Callahan said the reason he introduced the prospect of an ETJ to Council was to prevent uncontrolled or unlimited activity outside the town’s limits. Establishing standards in the ETJ, like upholding commercial districts, could help support master plan and planning documents the town already has in place, Callahan said Monday.
“I think it will help us with annexation issues as well,” he said.
Thursday, Council will vote to annex 17.6-acres off Hewett Burton Road in conjunction with the proposed 92-unit townhouse development Bishops Ridge. Council will also vote to approve the parcel’s initial zoning as R-6 medium residential density, from its current designation as low-density commercial in Brunswick County.
If it’s approved, it will be the second time in two months Leland will have annexed in the county’s commercially-zoned land, zoned it residential, and agreed to offer the developer an incentive package as part of the deal. Both properties are located near the town’s corporate limits off Highway 17.
Most of these recent annexations in Leland have been voluntary, meaning, property owners are petitioning the town to be annexed. That is, with the exception of Lanvale Forest, a town-initiated proposal that promises needed road repairs in exchange for approval of annexation.
But annexation is a complicated and lengthy process and, as this recent history has shown, has required incentive and/or infrastructure quid-pro-quo expenditure. Leland, it seems, is looking for a more effective way to steer development adjacent to the town in a different direction than the county might.
“There is some conflict in what the town envisions and what they county envisions,” Andrea, Leland’s planning director said Monday. “So if the town is able to ETJ the town would have more control over the fringes.”
Industrial land use
Andrea specifically mentioned the county’s anticipation of industrial growth, as an example of the two governments’ differences on the future of land use opinions. Industrial growth in Leland could take place in the Leland Industrial Park, officials speculated in previous Economic Development Committee meetings. Despite the park’s name, the hundreds of acres off Highway 74 are nearly all under the county’s jurisdiction. Just three acres, annexed into the town in June 2018, are under Leland’s control.
In July 2018, the town hosted a meeting introducing a non-profit, Leland Innovation Park, Inc., that formed as a result of Leland Economic Development Committee meetings. The non-profit’s goal is to “rebrand” the county’s park. Efforts of the group, spearheaded by Gene Merritt, co-founder and former executive director of Downtown Area Revitalization, Inc. (now Wilmington Downtown, Inc.,), include improving signage and enhancing the park’s identity.
Leland’s stakeholders will meet at a forthcoming workshop to work out details of the proposed ETJ.
“Regardless of where this ETJ conversation goes, or regardless of how the county reacts, I think in our master planning process we can still expand our horizons to areas outside our corporate limits,” Andrea said.
View the map of the proposed ETJ, courtesy of the Town of Leland, presented to Council at Monday’s agenda meeting, below:
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