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News Highlands board begins process to end ETJ

By a 3 to 1 vote, last week Highlands commissioners took the first step toward abolishing ETJ [Extra Territorial Jurisdiction] for the Town of Highlands. It was only the first step because creating or abolishing an ordinance requires a super majority. Such a majority would have to have been either 4 to 1, or 5 to 0. Failing to reach a super majority means the Board will have to vote again at the next meeting, Oct. 18. Another 3-1 or 3-2 simple majority will then abolish the ordinance creating the ETJ in Highlands.

Town Attorney Bill Coward explained to the packed board room that the rule requiring a super majority was not a Highlands rule, but rather a state statute. ETJ was established in Highlands in November 2005.

The motion to abolish the ETJ was made by Commissioner Larry Rogers and seconded by Commissioner Gary Drake. Commissioner John (Buz) Dotson also voted to abolish it. Commissioner Amy Patterson voted against the motion. Commissioner Dennis DeWolf was not present at the meeting.

Prior to the vote, Patterson offered an explanation as to why she was opposed to abolishing the ordinance. She said, addressing the audience (most of whom were there to see the abolishment of the ordinance), “Some 41 years ago, this community got together and drew up a set of rules to ensure that Highlands would be a good place to live, not a hell-hole that people would want to get away from. I have heard what you all have had to say. I don’t want you to think I haven’t listened. I just don’t happen to agree with you. ETJ is a way to sustain our community. Zoning protects us. Sure it restricts us, but it restricts us to protect us.”

Dotson added, “Because we have had the ETJ, the Town has had a say as to how some construction was done in the ETJ, but because of grandfathering and because people saw it coming, things were done to property that Highlands didn’t have control over. I think ETJ in bits and pieces has been beneficial in many cases, but I’m not sure that the way it is constructed is good as a whole.”

David Clabo, who was recently named Planning and Zoning Administrator for the Town of Highlands, spoke with Macon County News. He said, “I’m not sure how many states have ETJ, but it is certainly not unique to North Carolina. I know Tennessee has ETJ. Generally speaking, ETJ has worked well all over the state. It seems to work best when the county has some type of zoning, even simple zoning. Since Macon County has no zoning, it becomes somewhat more of a hard sell.

“There are some obvious benefits. One is protection of the reservoir. Another is the protection of the corridors coming into the town, the gateways, the passageways so to speak. I think the Town could have possibly done a better job of selling ETJ. But I wasn’t here, so I don’t know for sure. I only arrived in time to see the door closed.”

Town to review its property use

Mayor David Wilkes proposed that Clabo review the town’s policy in regards to commercial use of the town’s property, i.e., Kelsey-Hutchinson Park, the Ball Park, the Rec Center. He requested that Clabo investigate what other communities allow on their public spaces and how they control use of the property. Wilkes mentioned that the current policy does not address such things as parking, insurance, tax records and income. He also suggested that a review of the $50 a day fee for the Kelsey-Hutchinson Park be reviewed as well.

Cynthia Strain, proprietor of the Mill Creek Gallery and organizer of the recent Art & Craft show held at Kelsey-Hutchinson Park, then addressed the board.

She said she didn’t think this was the best avenue for such a discussion. She thought the Chamber of Commerce would be better. She began by sharing a brief history of the Art & Craft Show.

“The Village Square Art & Craft Show was started in 2006 with 25 vendors. There have been 12 shows since, and the shows have grown each year (76 vendors at the most recent),” said Strain.

“I work hard to keep the vendors local or at least regional. This year, there were 11 from Highlands, 12 in Franklin and 53 from nearby towns for this family friendly event.

“I always donate a booth space to any non-profit that wants one, and spend over $1,200 just promoting this show.” she continued.

Strain said that lot of research has been done regarding the economic value and impact of the art and crafts on communities and that events such as this provide immeasurable rewards.

Debbie Grossman, owner of Fresser’s Eatery offered her support for Strain’s event.

The board will discuss the issue at the next meeting.

In other action, the board voted to close part of Church Street alley behind the Methodist Church so the church can connect pieces of its facilities. The board also heard an architectural assessment of the Highlands Playhouse from architect Jeff Weller. He reported that it would cost approximately $54,750 to make repairs to the roof, flooring and external structure and to address electrical issues. To winterize the building would cost another $94,000. The Finance Committee will review the assessment and determine what can be done immediately.


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