Lake Norman & Mooresville

Huntersville revising residential development standards

Jack Simoneau
Jack Simoneau

Huntersville is revising its standards for residential development, responding to a new state law that restricts the ability of county and municipal governments to control the appearance of most new homes.

The law applies to single- and two-family homes, making exterior features such as colors, roofing and window sizes no longer subject to regulation.

While Huntersville has maintained a kind of laissez faire approach to residential development over the years, the law could lead to changes, said Jack Simoneau, the town’s planning director.

He cited a town rule restricting garages to at least 10 feet behind the center of houses larger than 1,400 square feet, suggesting that because the town can no longer control their placement under the law, street-facing garages could become a fixture in residential streetscapes.

By establishing how much control local governments have over development standards, the law aims to keep development costs down, thereby creating more affordable housing.

Excluding buildings with a historic designation or in those historic districts, the law does not take away the ability of local governments to regulate home sizes or their orientation, or to require buffers. Homes already approved for construction are not subject to the change.

Since the long-discussed measure became law this summer, local governments across North Carolina, including those of Davidson and Cornelius, have revisited their development rules. Among the state lawmakers who sponsored the bill was Republican Sen. Jeff Tarte, who lives in Cornelius.

Tarte has said that focusing on such finer details is excessive, putting undue regulatory burden on developers.

In Huntersville’s case, it started scrutinizing its rules in recent weeks, planning to tweak certain words and make other changes. For example, it intends to change the word “shall” to “should” when referring to newly built homes blending in with surrounding architecture.

While such changes might seem merely semantic, they leave room for interpretation, Simoneau said, saying the difference is “night and day.”

A public hearing on the matter is scheduled for Dec. 21. Commissioners are expected to adopt a set of revised standards the following month.

It remains to be seen how exactly the law will affect the Lake Norman area, which has seen dramatic growth in recent years.

In Huntersville, development of single-family homes has proven prolific, and its population has more than doubled since 2000, from slightly less than 24,000 to nearly 53,000, Simoneau noted. In 1990, the town was home to only about 3,000 people.

To accommodate such growth, the town has had in place “very permissive” development standards, Simoneau said, noting that it has no minimum lot size requirements as a way to help prevent land prices from surging.

Asked whether the pace of development here is expected to continue in coming years, Simoneau said the town is fertile ground for more growth, noting that it still has much undeveloped land.

But the law, he said, could prove ineffective in towns like Huntersville, given that it “already provides developers with the real flexibility you need to keep land costs down.”

Jake Flannick is a freelance writer: