At his home a few miles outside of Fuquay-Varina in southern Wake County, Jeff Burdine leans over to pet Lily, his golden-haired goat, while his wife and children eat dinner on an enclosed balcony overlooking a pond carpeted in a rich, green algal bloom. Lily, who lives in an electric-fence enclosure along with another goat and eight chickens on Burdine's sprawling eight-and-a-half-acre property, wags her tail like a dog and nuzzles him.
"They don't have a mean bone in their body," Burdine says. "They will chew your clothes though."
Burdine cares for these animals. More than that, his family uses them for food—eggs from the chickens, hopefully milk and cheese one day from the goats. But he's worried he won't be able to do that too much longer. The government might get in the way.
Last month, the town of Fuquay-Varina asked the Wake County Board of Commissioners to expand its extraterritorial jurisdiction, or ETJ, by twenty-two thousand acres. The board isn't expected to take up the request until later this year or next, but if it agrees, Burdine and more than eight thousand county property owners who live outside of town limits could be forced to abide by Fuquay-Varina's stricter zoning rules—including ones regarding animals—even though they won't be able to vote on the town leaders making those rules.
And while the town pitches the expanded ETJ as a way to manage growth, it's also not difficult to see it as a way for Fuquay-Varina to encourage development in certain areas, annex those properties, and then add them to its tax base.
On August 28, the town sent potentially affected property owners a letter summarizing what the ETJ would mean. At first, Burdine skimmed it, not fully understanding the implications, but after a little research, he grew concerned—and then, after more research, angry.
Although the ETJ won't come with additional town taxes (or services), it would mean myriad new, sometimes obscure zoning regulations. So Burdine launched a website—stopfuquayetj.org—to sound the alarm, and his neighbors rallied to his banner. A scan of Facebook community groups and the neighborhood site NextDoor shows posts with dozens of comments from residents with no interest in having Fuquay-Varina's ordinances become the law of their land.
"I don't think Wake County has a vested interest," Burdine says. "Clearly the town is looking to get our tax base."
The ETJ would, in essence, allow Fuquay-Varina to secure property that could eventually be annexed should prospective developers want to link to the town's utilities. As county planner Bryan Coates points out, that development is already happening, but whether Fuquay-Varina gets a say in how it occurs or whether the town benefits from it depends on whether the county grants the ETJ request.
The ETJ could also enable Fuquay-Varina to force developers who are building close to its urban service area or a town water line to agree to annexation—which is technically voluntary—in order to connect to utilities, Coates says. And that will boost the town's tax revenues.
One of the fastest-growing communities in the state, Fuquay-Varina's population doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 7,898–17,996, according to town planning director Samantha Smith. In July, the town's population hit thirty thousand, Smith says, and it's expected to reach thirty-six thousand by 2020, effectively quadrupling in two decades. Building permits have also risen, with a record 2,266 new housing lots approved last year, and another 1,146 approved through August of this year.
Fueling growth in the once-rural enclave is the rapacious housing market, with farmers selling acres of land to developers. Driving around the proposed ETJ north of Fuquay-Varina, where Burdine lives, it's common to see lush tobacco and soybean fields with deteriorating farm houses quickly give way to pristine subdivisions, which can just as quickly dissolve into dense woods or humble ranches on sprawling parcels.
The town's growth is mostly driven by migration, says county commissioner Matt Calabria. It requires new schools and transit systems—all of which the town needs to pay for.
"Local governments control growth less than most people think," Calabria says. The key, he says, is "smart growth."
Calabria says he hasn't decided whether he supports the proposed ETJ, and he won't until he's heard more from residents and county and town staffers. (Four residents, including Burdine, have already emailed Calabria in opposition to the ETJ.)
This growth is good for the bedroom community, Smith argues—fast, but not "in an alarming way." Fuquay-Varina simply wants to have some control over how it occurs, Smith says. And that's where the ETJ comes in.
"The ETJ provides transition area between the town limits and the county," Smith says. "The reason we're interested in doing this expansion is because it's no secret that Wake County is growing, and we're interested in growing in the most responsible and well-managed way possible. We believe that expanding our ETJ accomplishes that. Folks are selling their property for development whether or not it's in the town or county's jurisdiction."
So the town asked Wake County to increase its ETJ by 22,049 acres, up from its current 8,739 acres. Per state law, municipalities with more than twenty-five thousand residents can extend their ETJs up to three miles from their town limits, according to the letter sent to residents.
For the town, this ETJ will ensure that new developments come with infrastructure improvements and contribute to the transportation network, which can help alleviate traffic congestion, Smith says. For residents—at least with those with no big development plans—Smith says it won't make much of a difference.
Burdine doesn't buy it. He points to a list of ordinances on the town website, including one whose language he deems less than clear.
"I've read this a thousand times, and I still don't know whether I'm allowed to have goats or not," Burdine says.
He wouldn't be. Under Fuquay-Varina's existing regulations, nondomestic animals such as goats are only allowed on bona fide farms, and Burdine's property isn't considered a bona fide farm. Chickens, along with horses and pigs, are permitted with regulations, Smith says.
Burdine's problem isn't the number of goats and chickens he can keep on his wooded property. It's the fact that when he built his dream home on Hilltop Needmore Road three years ago, he didn't think he'd have to comb through dense municipal code to find out what he could and couldn't do.
"My issue is around my land and the fact that I'm never going to sell, yet I'm still getting forced to live by Fuquay-Varina's rules," he says. "That's just not right. Even if I could get myself to think that was right, the fact that I can't vote makes it, to me, not the American way. The only people I vote for is the county, and once the county gives away the ETJ, I have no say in what ordinances they pass."
Smith says she understands Burdine's frustration. The town is working to retool its ordinances to accommodate people in the proposed ETJ—and animal regulations are on the list. "Wake County zoning is a little bit looser on things like nondomestic animals than our regulations are, and we know that," she says.
County commissioners broached the topic of future development in Fuquay-Varina last week while approving a request from Fuquay-Varina to reclassify 7,581 acres of its urban service area along the eastern portion of the proposed ETJ from long to short range, a bureaucratic-sounding distinction that signals a significant investment in municipal utilities in that area—one of the least developed near Fuquay-Varina—within ten years.
In other words, it's an area where you can expect a lot of new homes pop up where farms once stood.
Commissioner John Burns worried that the county's development plan is "aimed at turning every square inch of property in Wake County into subdivision," with no incentives in place to increase density. That, he argued, could make things like transit investments less effective. "We need to make sure when we're working with one hand, we're not counteracting that with another," Burns said. "The more land we open to that, the more ineffective specific expenditures become."
Down the road from Burdine's house, the town has already annexed and approved a 185-home subdivision across seventy-seven acres of former farmland. The developer is clearing the land with large tractors, moving dirt and leaving twisted tree roots upended like fallen soldiers across the property.
"It's sad, but good for them," Burdine says. "I don't care other than, well, I won't even go there."
Burdine doesn't pretend he can stop the area from changing—nor, he says, does he want to—but he hopes he can help galvanize opposition to the ETJ by educating residents on what it will mean. Burdine thinks if he can rally a few hundred people to come out to the Wake County Board of Commissioners when it debates the matter, they might stand a chance at avoiding Fuquay-Varina's zoning laws.
But development, even in Wake's most rural corners, is something that won't be avoided.
"We're seeing growth swoop south," Calabria says. "The town and the county and others are attempting to be prepared for it. [The area in the proposed ETJ] is going to see a lot of growth, and that's regardless of any decisions that local government will make. It's coming."