In an unsurprising move, West Jefferson Aldermen voted Monday night to revisit the issue of establishing an extra territorial jurisdiction (ETJ) around the town. The decision came on the heels of an abrupt cancellation of a hearing on the issue that had been planned for March 29, and in the wake of protests from citizens concerned about the potential for sexually-oriented businesses (SOB) locating in the town.
Despite the fact that the town had been discussing the idea of an ETJ and presenting its definitions for a number of years, protests from landowners concerned about zoning led aldermen to cancel the hearing that had been scheduled for them to answer questions and hear comments about the issue.
With less than a majority of aldermen planning to support an ETJ because of the protests, the decision was made to stop the process in order to provide more information to the public.
The decision to postpone adoption of an ETJ, however, put the town into the unwelcome position of having to defend itself against the potential of sexually-oriented businesses. A rigid town ordinance currently in place allows no site for such a business to locate, and by Constitutional amendment guaranteeing freedom of expression a municipality must allow such a business to locate somewhere in the town limits or ETJ.
It was when a downtown business owner began asking earlier this year about the possibility of caged dancers on the premises that the town decided something more had to be done. A moratorium was put in place prohibiting sexually-oriented businesses until the town could adopt an ETJ in which they could find a place so far outside town it would most likely be cost prohibitive for a sexually-oriented business to locate. There was only one likely area, close to the industrial park on Beaver Creek School Road. And even if there was a site such a business could locate, said Town Manager Greg McGinnis, there is no guarantee a landowner would sell land for such a purpose.
When the hearing was canceled, and the temporary moratorium on sexually-oriented businesses expired, the town was left with no choice but to consider relaxing the restrictions of its land use ordinance in order to find somewhere that sexually-oriented businesses could locate if they chose to locate in West Jefferson.
Misinformation and rumors began to run rampant in the community, with many believing that the town was planning the hearing and ETJ specifically to allow sexually-oriented businesses in the town. Just the opposite is the case, with the town trying to keep such businesses as far out of town as legally possible. But the restriction of sexually-oriented businesses is only one of 16 recommendations in the town’s land use plan, adopted in December 2008, that would impact property owners in the ETJ. And that is the issue that many will be looking at when the hearing is rescheduled.
(Read more about this issue in Tuesday’s edition of the Post.)