A bill that would end zoning protest petitions is up for a vote Wednesday in the N.C. Senate, where passage appears likely.
HB 201 sailed through the Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday. A similar version has already passed the House with bipartisan support.
Protest petitions, which can be initiated by a specified number of property owners adjacent to a proposed rezoning, require a three-quarters vote by city council to approve the rezoning, rather than a simple majority. Critics say that’s too high a bar.
“We cannot function here which these requirements, and I don’t think our cities are functioning well with those requirements,” said Sen. Andy Wells, a Hickory Republican who advocated for the bill Tuesday.
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In Hickory, he said, zoning cases in which there are protest petitions essentially require the votes of six of seven City Council members.
But advocates say the petitions give average homeowners a stronger voice against large, well-financed developers.
Protest petitions have been around ever since zoning began in North Carolina in the 1920s. Since then, they have been widely used in Mecklenburg County and across the state. Through April, 16 protest petitions had been received by Charlotte-Mecklenburg planners in the previous six months.
Durham attorney Tom Miller told the Senate panel that protest petitions help homeowners protect their investment against incompatible or unwanted development. He has said that the petitions give developers an incentive to be good neighbors.
But builders and developers say the petitions delay projects and can drive off good development.
Mike Carpenter, general counsel with the N.C. Home Builders Association, called the petitions “an anachronism” of the 1920s.
Another measure, Senate Bill 285, would require two-thirds of council members – not three-fourths – to approve a rezoning for which a protest petition has been filed. That bill, whose sponsors include Democratic Sen. Jeff Jackson of Charlotte, is stuck in the Senate Rules Committee. Efforts to amend the other bill to that effect failed.
If the Senate passes HB 201, it would return to the House where lawmakers could concur with Senate changes or send it to a conference committee to reconcile differences.