The Town of St. James was denied an extraterritorial jurisdiction along Highway 211 in a 5-2 vote Monday night by the Brunswick County Planning Board.
Representatives from St. James, including Mayor Jean Toner, appeared before the planning board to make their case for approval of the town’s ETJ request made up of more than 1,000 acres and 60 parcels.
In her report to the board, Brunswick County Planning Director Kirstie Dixon said the request did not meet the criteria for annexation, comprehensive planning or urban development.
“It certainly was not the results we were hoping for,” Toner said. “Our neighbors have ETJs, and I think that is beneficial to those municipalities. I think with what we’re looking at with development along Highway 211 it could have a possible negative effect on the residents of St. James, especially in terms of the environmental impacts. It’s just very disappointing.”
Unable to meet county criteria
In recommending that the board deny the request, Dixon said the town indicated no plans to proceed with annexation in the ETJ area within 10 years, which failed to meet one of three county criteria. Dixon also said St. James could not commit to good planning or the ability to manage growth due its lack of in-house services.
“Other than the services provided by the Cape Fear Council of Governments, all of their services are provided by Brunswick County,” said Dixon. “That commercial corridor has land that could be developed in the future and the Town of St. James lacks the expertise to facilitate it.”
St. James also failed to meet the criteria related to feasibility for urban development, Dixon said, as it relates to requiring that municipalities accommodate urban development while protecting the county’s rural areas.
“Staff reviewed and have evaluated the three ETJ evaluation criteria outlined in the extension policy,” Dixon said. “Based upon information received from the Town of St. James, planning staff recommends denial of the ETJ.”
Toner: area oversight ‘way to prevent future problems’
Sam Shore, a planner with the Cape Fear Council of Governments who spoke on behalf of St. James, told the planning board that the request did meet the county’s criteria. Shore said the town is committed to development and comprehensive planning and can hire staff as it moves forward with the additional responsibilities. He also said ordinances already in place are similar to the county’s in several respects, and that town council is willing to permit additional residential uses in the ETJ.
“There really is no way for the town to come in and annex anybody,” said Shore, referring to a 2012 state statute that prevented involuntary annexation. “It’s not to say the town isn’t interested, it’s just to say that any future potential annexation would have to be a collaborative effort with the land owners in question.”
In her pitch to the planning board, Toner said the request “is not for, and does not lead to, involuntary annexation.” The ETJ will provide St. James with planning and zoning authority only, said Toner, and giving one entity oversight of the area is a way to prevent future problems.
“The planning department’s argument that our ETJ request would lead automatically to involuntary annexation is patently false,” Toner said. “The county planning department has broad responsibilities in planning and zoning, and may not be aware of local issues.”
Wood: ‘St. James wants control’
Planning Board member Christopher Wood asked Toner why the town should have authority over property owners outside the gated community.
“They live in the county, they don’t live in your city,” said Wood. “However, your city is asking for the power to tell these property owners what they can and can’t do. You’re going to have to give me a good reason and I don’t see a reason other than fact that St. James wants control.”
Toner said what property owners do across the street from 7,000 residents does have an impact on St. James.
Several property owners in the proposed ETJ who spoke against the request at the St. James public hearing on Nov. 10 repeated their opposition Monday night to the county planning board .
“While St. James is technically an incorporated town, in reality it is a fully-gated, monolithic residential planned unit development,” said Patrick Newton. “The town has defined itself as an isolated entity. Forcing (property) owners to conform to the town’s self-serving UDO would result in perpetual conflict between the town and these owners.”
William Bittenbender, one of two planning board members to vote for the request, said he understood the town’s need to have some control over the land in question. Richard Ishler also supported the ETJ request.