Quicker inspections, no more aesthetic rules from cities for houses and an end to protest petitions that let neighbors try to block proposed rezoning: That’s a rundown of what the development industry is seeking this year at the state legislature.
Critics have said some of the measures would shift too much power to developers, while those in support have said they would lower costs and make development more efficient in North Carolina.
The General Assembly passed its unofficial halfway mark this week, the so-called crossover deadline. Non-fiscal bills that didn’t pass at least one chamber of the legislature are finished, but key bills the development industry supports cleared the deadline.
Still, that doesn’t mean those measures will actually become law. Some of them have passed one chamber in prior years but lingered in the other until the legislative session ended.
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“If it’s not a priority for leadership, it’s tough to say what will happen,” Joe Padilla, Charlotte-based executive director of the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition, said of the bills.
Here’s a summary of some bills those in the development industry are keeping their eyes on as the legislative session forges ahead.
▪ The end of protest petitions: When a developer seeks to rezone a piece of property – say, from residential use to institutional use as a day care for kids – adjoining property owners can file a petition to protest the change. If enough property owners sign on, Charlotte City Council needs a 3/4 supermajority instead of a simple majority to pass the rezoning. Protest petitions are the most potent weapon adjoining property owners have to fight a development they don’t like. Many developers, on the other hand, say the petitions are unfair, giving too much power to adjoining property owners to tell their neighbors what to do and raising costs by dragging out the rezoning process.
The House passed a bill that would end protest petitions last month. House Bill 201 is now awaiting action in the Senate Rules Committee – which is often the final resting place for bills that don’t pass. A Democratic-sponsored Senate bill that would have kept protest petitions but reduced the City Council vote to a 2/3 majority died in the same committee this year.
This isn’t the first time there’s been an effort to end protest petitions. The House also passed a bill that would have eliminated protest petitions last year, but it didn’t advance.
▪ Quicker inspections: A bill passed by the House would cut down on multiple building inspections and create a new committee to review changes to North Carolina’s building code. House Bill 255 would require inspections to be completed “in a timely manner” at the builder’s request, and would define failing to do so as an offense for which the inspector could be disciplined. Enforcing requirements “more stringent” than the building code would also be an offense. The bill raises the threshold a building permit is required for from $5,000 to $15,000, and forbids local governments from using inspection fee revenues for unrelated purposes.
The N.C. League of Municipalities and the N.C. Building Inspectors Association have come out against the bill. The building inspectors group has said the bill could let builders call in inspectors before a house is complete, and that it could expose inspectors to discipline for more offenses.
The bill is awaiting action in the Senate Rules Committee.
▪ Stopping cities and counties from setting aesthetic standards for houses: Another bill under consideration would bar local municipalities from regulating the design standards for houses and townhouses. Cities and counties could no longer regulate a house’s color, style or type of exterior, style or materials of roofs or porches, architectural ornamentation or the location or style of windows or doors. Design standards would still apply in historic districts.
Supporters of the Senate Bill 25 say such rules drive up the cost of housing by forcing developers to spend more to conform to regulations, and that some municipalities have overreached with restrictive standards. Opponents say cities should have the right to set design standards to prevent substandard or “cookie cutter” construction. The N.C. League of Municipalities has opposed the bill, but it backed a compromise that would keep cities from setting design rules in newly built neighborhoods while maintaining some regulations governing construction in established neighborhoods.
The bill has passed the Senate and is waiting to be taken up in the House Committee on Regulatory Reform. Again, this isn’t the first time the issue has come up. A similar bill passed the House in 2013 but stalled in the Senate.