LELAND — Despite hearing a solid “no” from Brunswick County Commissioners, Leland Town Council is not giving up on plans to expand its control over an area outside the official town limits.
Leland has been seeking permission from the county to establish an Extraterritorial Jurisdiction for years. Brunswick County Commissioners told Leland officials the county would not approve the proposed district on at least two occasions now — last month and in fall 2018.
The town cannot obtain an ETJ without the county’s permission. But not getting that permission hasn’t stopped the town from pushing forward.
What’s an ETJ?
An Extraterritorial Jurisdiction, or ETJ, allows municipalities to expand certain land control powers outside their corporate limits. ETJs can be subject to zoning, subdivision, design and other regulations not required by the county they’re anchored in.
Turns out, ETJs are actually common in Brunswick County. But according to the Kirstie Dixon, the county’s planning director, they haven’t changed much over the last 15 years.
Of Brunswick County’s 19 municipalities, eight have ETJs. All eight are located in central or southern Brunswick County, with the Town of Shallotte keeping up the northernmost ETJ.
Leland is seeking an ETJ that effectively extends its corporate limits by roughly one mile — a move that would nearly double area under the growing town’s control.
Councilman Michael Callahan pitched the ETJ to Leland Council and staff after attending the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Government Community Development Academy.
Callahan brought up the idea at an August 2018 Council meeting. First introduced as a district on Highway 17 as a “gateway into the town,” the concept of an ETJ has since grown. After casual discussions, county officials indicated to Leland’s town manager, David Hollis, it had “no interest” in granting the ETJ.
So in December, Council agreed to formalize the pitch. Mayor Brenda Bozeman sent Brunswick County Chairman Frank Williams a letter on Jan. 4, requesting the ETJ. Bozeman cited Leland’s “unique municipal boundaries” — which has several non-contiguous satellite limits — and rapid growth as factors to coordinate planning efforts with the county.
At the county’s regular meeting on Jan. 22, Commissioners expressed skepticism about the idea.
“I know in the past our board’s been hesitant — to put it mildly — on ETJs,” Williams said.
Commissioner Pat Sykes voiced concern at the meeting the ETJ would serve as a pathway to forcing annexation on residents outside town limits. Also, she said it could prompt Leland’s neighbor, Belville, to ask for one too.
“It’s really up to the citizens,” Sykes said in an interview Friday about the ETJ. “Why should we pick and choose who’s going to be in whose city?”
Sykes said Friday she’s against “forced annexation,” but declined comment further about specifically how the ETJ might lead to involuntary annexation. (In North Carolina, municipalities may initiate an involuntary annexation process provided a set of services and urbanization standards are met. Urbanization standards could likely be influenced by zoning requirements in an ETJ).
When Commissioners discussed the topic in January, Williams also shared the same sentiment about outside control over unincorporated residents. “If I didn’t live in a town, I wouldn’t want that town controlling my zoning if I didn’t have a vote on their town council,” Williams said at the January meeting.
After Commissioners agreed they needed to know more about what Leland wanted, Brunswick County Manager Ann Hardy asked Hollis for more information in a Jan. 23 email. Hollis then provided Hardy with a staff assessment on March 7.
He provided her with a map (included at the bottom of this article) and identified the town’s goals: controlled, coordinated growth using land outside city limits, ensuring compatible development on the town’s limits, improving aesthetics and property values in fringe areas, and protecting residents from so-called “noxious” and “incompatible” land uses.
Leland pushes ahead
At a Leland Council agenda meeting last month, Councilman Callahan said getting the authority to assert zoning control outside the town is worth “several million dollars.” Council discussed using a consultant and hosting a workshop as methods to sway the county in favor of the ETJ.
On Monday, Council discussed at its agenda review meeting getting legal assistance to help continue pitching the ETJ. Mayor Brenda Bozeman said she recently had back-to-back meetings with Williams and Commissioner Mike Forte, with Hollis attending the former and Councilwoman Pat Batleman attending the latter. Williams spoke with each Commissioner, Bozeman said, and said all were against granting Leland an ETJ.
“They were very nice, but they told us they would not give us any ETJ,” Bozeman said at the Monday meeting. “I want to keep just sending it back to them.”
Bozeman referenced one commissioner’s hesitation about forced annexation — which apparently refers to Sykes’ position.
“Evidently, that commissioner doesn’t know the laws of North Carolina about annexation,” Bozeman said. She specifically cited potential issues surrounding the Hearthstone area off Lanvale Road, where new projects are being planned outside the town’s control.
Batleman expressed disappointment with the county’s position.
“What I’m not too happy about is there didn’t seem to be any thorough discussion,” she said at the meeting Monday. “It didn’t seem to be an effort to evaluate the pros and the cons. It was just no.”
She said she wanted more than “just a ‘no.'” “To me, that’s not how you conduct business. That’s not how you look into the future,” she said. “That’s not the way you endorse economic development.”
After the discussion, Council agreed to ask staff to schedule a workshop. According to Leland’s recently-named spokesperson, Hilary Snow, the town hasn’t yet set a date for the forthcoming ETJ meeting.
Williams, who is traveling in Washington, D.C., did not respond to requests for comment. Forte, after suggesting Williams could comment on the matter, did not provide a comment when asked.
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