Looking to Serve? Mecklenburg County Seeks Qualified Applicants to Board of Equalization & Review

Meck County SealAre you interested in serving your community while helping the real estate industry at the same time? If you are, the Board of County Commissioners is seeking applicants to fill 15 spots on the Mecklenburg County Board of Equalization and Review (BER).

The BER is a panel of appointed citizens that reviews assessments appealed by property owners. Appointments are made for three-year terms with no one serving more than two full consecutive terms.

The County Commission voted in November to re-appoint the entire board following a highly problematic revaluation process in which flaws were later found in hundreds of commercial and residential properties. Commissioners are currently evaluating whether or not to conduct another revaluation of all or some properties in Mecklenburg County, and whether refunds can be granted. State legislation would likely be required before the county can issue property tax refunds.

To qualify for an appointment as a BER member, each nominee must have been residents of Mecklenburg County for at least two consecutive years prior to the appointment, shall remain a resident for the duration of service as a member, shall be knowledgeable of real estate or personal property valuation matters, and shall not have been convicted of a felony.

Individuals interested in applying should fill out the Advisory Board application by March 22. Nominations will be made at the April 2 BOCC meeting. For more information, contact Karen.Bradshaw@MecklenburgCountyNC.gov.

 

A New Day at the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources

DENR LogoCady Thomas, Director of Government Affairs for the North Carolina Association of  REALTORS®, recently posted the following about changes at the New North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources (NCDENR) on the NCAR Blog:

 

There are some exciting changes happening in Raleigh. In his State of the State address two weeks ago, Governor McCrory outlined his vision for a new, more efficient government focused on customer service. It is the prerogative of this administration to say “so long” to the days of business versus government and usher in a new era where the two work together to accomplish a common goal.

Governor McCrory demonstrated this desire with the appointment of John E. Skvarla, III as the new Secretary of Environment and Natural Resources. Secretary Skvarla brings a unique perspective to public service. He comes from the private sector, most recently serving as COO for Restoration Systems, a leading environmental restoration and mitigation firm that helps restore wetlands and waterways.

Secretary Skvarla has made it clear that it is not deregulation or softer enforcement that we need, but rather a working relationship between the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources and the private sector to ensure that projects are completed within the confines of the law and without harm to our environment. You can see this vision is already changing things at DENR by reading their new Mission Statement at the following link: http://www.ncrealtors.org/en/021813DENRMission.pdf.

Secretary Skvarla and Assistant Secretary of the Environment, Mitch Gillespie, will be reaching through all aspects of the Department from Raleigh through the DENR regional offices. In fact, Assistant Secretary Gillespie will begin touring the DENR Regional Offices at the conclusion of the legislative session to learn first-hand how DENR can better serve NC. Please send me any personal accounts, both good and bad, of DENR’s effect on the real estate industry in your area. These will be extremely helpful in providing the Department with examples of ways they can either improve relations with the public or promote the great things the regional offices are already doing for the public. We look forward to having our REALTORS and their clients as well as NCAR work with the new DENR and the new Secretary.

Cady Thomas
Director of Government Affairs
cthomas@ncrealtors.org

Charlotte Working to Revise Zoning Definitions for Restaurants, Bars & Nightclubs

Maverick Rock TacoDid you know that, under Charlotte’s current regulations, a restaurant that does nothing more than provide live piano music for its guests could run afoul of its zoning provisions? Or that a restaurant owner who hires a balloon artist to entertain children during dinner could have his establishment classified as a nightclub?

With its vague definitions of restaurants and nightclubs, the City’s existing zoning code creates a great deal of confusion for owners and operators of dining establishments, as well as for the commercial brokers who need clarity to understand whether or not a particular use will be allowed on a client’s property. But an effort is underway to change that.

In Charlotte today, a restaurant is defined as, “An establishment designed, in whole or in part, to accommodate the consumption of food and/or beverages.”  The only other recognized use for a dining establishment is a nightclub, which is defined as, “Any commercial establishment serving alcoholic beverages and providing entertainment for patrons including bars, lounges and cabarets.” Nowhere in the current zoning ordinance is the word “entertainment” defined.

As a result, it is becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish between restaurants, nightclubs and bars, and between 2010 and 2011, the city issued more than 29 notices of violation to establishments that failed to comply with their zoning conditions (most were for separation requirements). So in 2011, the City began the process of developing new definitions for restaurants, bars and nightclubs, to eliminate confusion and provide greater flexibility for property owners. The process was put on hold in 2012 while the Noise Ordinance was updated, and got underway again late last year.

The stakeholder group is currently considering whether to create a zoning definition for “entertainment,” which would more clearly define the difference between restaurants, nightclubs and bars. REBIC is concerned that this definition would be difficult to pin down, particularly in today’s fast-changing marketplace. Instead, we’re encouraging the City to focus its efforts on managing the external impacts of an establishment on any neighboring properties and addressing issues of nuisance, noise and separation. We believe a broad, flexible definition that allows restaurants to serve alcohol and provide various types of legal entertainment is the best approach, and we welcome any input from our broker and commercial developer members on this important subject.

Have you or one of your clients had issues with the City’s restaurant zoning laws? Please e-mail the details to Joe.Padilla@REBIC.com

For more information on the City’s Restaurant/Bar/Nightclub stakeholder group, click HERE.  The next Stakeholder Meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 5 at 6 p.m. at the Government Center. Anyone interested in the issue is encouraged to attend.

 

NAIOP Members Visit Capitol Hill During 2013 Legislative Retreat

NAIOP

NAIOP Executive Director Theresa Salmen, Legislative Chair Chris Thomas, 2012 President Charles Jonas and REBIC Executive Director Joe Padilla meet with Congressman Mel Watt at his office on Capitol Hill.

Four NAIOP Charlotte leaders joined others from across the NAIOP network in Washington, D.C., for the annual Chapter Leadership & Legislative Retreat, February 11-14, 2013. Over 300 individuals attended the Retreat.

Attendees had their choice of concurrent sessions that explored their roles as leaders and provided strategies and techniques. Sessions focused on various topics, including Developing Leaders programs, branding strategies, membership values and government affairs priority issues.

From the legislative perspective, all attendees heard from U.S. Congressman Erik Paulsen (R-Minn.) and U.S. Congressman John Barrow (D-Ga.). Congressman Paulsen is a member of the Ways & Means Committee and supports pro-growth initiatives and believes that open markets are the key to a strong economy. Congressman Barrow serves on the powerful Energy and Commerce Committee. He is also a member of the fiscally conservative Blue Dog Coalition and currently serves as the group’s Co-Chair for Administration.

Additionally, senior writer of The Weekly Standard and New York Times bestselling author Stephen Hayes shared his perspectives on the political and legislative environment, and provided insight on important international issues and their impact on the United States.

On the final day of the Retreat, more than 141 attendees traveled to Capitol Hill for scheduled visits with their state’s elected officials to voice NAIOP’s legislative concerns on critical issues.

NAIOP Charlotte participated in visits with:

Congressman Mel Watt
Senator Kay Hagen
Congressman Richard Hudson
Congressman Mick Mulvaney
Congressman Robert Pittenger

Some of the issues discussed during the Hill visits included pending federal storm water rules, tax extenders for leasehold improvement depreciation and the potential for carried interest to be taxed at ordinary income rates, instead of as capital gains. We enjoyed productive conversations with lawmakers on these and other topics, and ensured the priorities of the commercial real estate industry remained on the congressional agenda for 2013.

City Considering Storm Water Fee Hike, But Credits Stay in Place

Retention PondMecklenburg County and the City of Charlotte have postponed any revisions to their Storm Water Fee Credit program indefinitely, ensuring that commercial and residential property owners won’t see a reduction in their credits anytime in the foreseeable future.

However, City staff is requesting a 5.5% increase in all storm water fees for FY 2014, which begins July 1. If approved by City Council, the monthly per-acre fee for commercial properties would increase from $125.70 to $131.56. The Storm Water Advisory Committee raised concerns about the hike at its February 21st meeting and will discuss the issue again in March.

The proposed fee credit revisions were initiated with the intent of creating a new fee methodology that would better reflect the requirements of the current Storm Water BMP Manual used by the county.  REBIC’s main concerns with the proposal were the lack of a provision to grandfather all current recipients of a storm water fee credit, as well as planned reduction of the maximum available fee credit, which can now be as high as 100%.

For a copy of the current Fee Credit Manual and an application form to see if you can reduce the storm water fees on your property, click HERE.

State Legislators Give Home Builders Reason to be Optimistic about the 2013 Session

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Senators Tommy Tucker, Jeff Tarte and Joel Ford joined State Representatives Ruth Samuelson, Rob Bryan, Rodney Moore, Robert Brawley and Bill Brawley for the NCHBA/REBIC Legislative Forum Friday afternoon at Myers Park Country Club

Speaking at a joint REBIC/NCHBA forum at Myers Park Country Club Friday afternoon, legislators from Mecklenburg, Iredell and Union counties gave home builders many reasons to be optimistic that 2013 would be one of the most pro-business sessions in North Carolina history.

During a 90-minute Q&A session focusing on critical issues for the home building industry, the eight legislators offered their perspectives on everything from Tax Reform to a bill that would eliminate the ability of local governments to regulate the architecture of new homes. Here are some of the highlights:

On a Bill Prohibiting Local Architectural Design Requirements …

  • Every legislator on the panel agreed they would support legislation similar to SB 731, which passed the Senate in 2011;
  • Senator Jeff Tarte  (Mecklenburg), the former mayor of Cornelius, says he remembers the absurdity of watching his town commissioners debate “which shade of yellow they were going to allow on the exterior of a new commercial building” and supports getting local government out of the architecture business;
  • Representative Bill Brawley (Mecklenburg) said he expected another, more comprehensive piece of legislation would emerge from his Local Government subcommittee and cover both residential and commercial construction. Brawley, a commercial broker, was a strong supporter of SB 731 in the last session, but felt it didn’t go far enough.
  • Representative Ruth Samuelson (Mecklenburg), the Republican Caucus Leader, told builders she has “a lot of passion about this issue,” and promised it would get through.

On a bill requiring a Sunset Provision for all State Administrative Rules …

  • Representative Samuelson, who co-sponsored the bill with Representative Rob Bryan and others, said “the idea is to not allow any of our 29,000 administrative rules to stay on the books indefinitely when they’ve outlived their original purpose.”
  • Representative Bryan (Mecklenburg) likened the proposal to “calling it zero-based regulating,” while Senator Tarte suggested a form of the federal pay-go rule: “We should revoke two laws for every new law we pass.”
  • Representative Rodney Moore (Mecklenburg) took a more cautious approach, saying that while he supported regulatory reform in concept, “how we go about it is something we have to be careful about.”

On legislation to Change the Building Code Cycle and Limit the Number of Local Inspections …

  • Senator Tommy Tucker (Union), a mechanical contractor and Charlotte HBA member, shared his own frustration with the lack of uniformity in local code inspections, and said he would support efforts to bring more predictability to the building and permitting process.
  • Representative Samuelson, responding to the chaotic introduction of the 2012 Residential Building Code last spring, suggested a bill that would require codes can be only enforced after they are available online or in print for a set period of time.

On State Tax Reform …

  • The panelists all agreed that some type of Tax Reform would occur during the 2013 session, but most expressed concerns about the plan introduced last month by Senator Bob Rucho.
  • Senator Tarte, who did support much of the Rucho plan, said “the goal should be to broaden the base and lower the rate. If we continue to take away from the most productive, they will quit.” But he also acknowledged that the plan would continue to evolve and encouraged the industry to provide him and his colleagues with specific feedback and ideas.
  • Representative Samuelson was blunt in her criticism of Rucho’s plan, saying “the Speaker has made it clear (it) would not be acceptable to the House. We’re going to tweak it.” She specifically took issue with the proposal to raise revenue from a 1% Real Estate Conveyance Fee.
  • Representative Robert Brawley (Iredell) also agreed that reform was needed, but cautioned his fellow legislators on how aggressive of a plan to pursue. “Our economy is so delicate, if we do anything too drastic, it’s going to kill us.”

Thanks to all the legislators who carved out time from their busy schedules to spend time with home builders from around the Charlotte Region and give their perspectives on the 2013 session!

Streetcar Debate Back in Spotlight for City Council

StreetcarThe debate over Charlotte’s proposed streetcar project took center stage again this week, from Mayor Anthony Foxx’s State of the City address on Monday morning through the conclusion of 2-day City Council retreat on Friday.

On Monday, the Mayor used his address to hit back at streetcar critics, most notably Governor Pat McCrory, who recently warned that committing taxpayer dollars to the project could jeopardize state funding for the Blue Line Extension (BLE). But while Foxx lashed out at the “culture of intimidation” in Raleigh, the governor’s remarks were merely a statement of fact.

State funding for the Blue Line has never been warmly embraced by the General Assembly, and legislators from Mecklenburg will have to fight to keep the annual $25 million appropriation in the budget until the extension is complete. So if the City shows that it can manage to come up with $119 million from its general fund to pay for another rail project, legislators will be less inclined to stretch the state’s ever-tightening transportation dollars to meet their commitment for the BLE.

As he defended the streetcar in his remarks on Monday, Foxx said the project’s economic benefit was not in doubt, and implied that detractors had a problem simply with where the line is intended to run. “Opposition to the streetcar is based on smoke and mirrors,” he insisted. “This is about (luring) new private investment.”

But while many transit projects around the nation have indeed helped to catalyze redevelopment, transit in and of itself has not always proven to be the cure for a neighborhood’s economic ills. If that were the case, then every transit station in America would be a magnet for new housing, jobs and retail. One need only look at Atlanta’s MARTA system to realize that’s far from the truth.

In reality, transit acts more like a growth hormone – helping to accelerate the growth of corridors and activity centers that already have many of the pieces in place to attract economic development. But the Mayor and other city leaders ignore this reality, and point to the streetcar as an investment with a guaranteed economic return for Charlotte’s West Side.

On Thursday morning, when City Council met at the Whitehead Manor Conference Center for its annual retreat, it didn’t take long for the streetcar issue to take center stage. The luncheon speaker was Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, who talked of Atlanta’s own streetcar, a 1.6-mile, $95 million project now under construction between Centennial Olympic Park and the King Center on historic Auburn Avenue.

Reed, who was elected mayor in 2010 after a decade in the Georgia General Assembly, also noted how the Atlanta region “got thumped” last August with the defeat of a one-cent transportation sales tax referendum that would have raised $6 billion for much-need regional road and transit improvements. What he didn’t mention, however, is the role that rail projects may have played in that thumping. The heavy investment in center city transit (52% of the proposed plan) drove opponents the ballot box like nothing else, and the referendum failed by a 37 point margin.

The lesson for Charlotte? Transit is divisive. And when you need support from skeptical voters or appropriations from state legislators, transit projects that do little or nothing to reduce congestion only make your success less likely.

A closer look at the Atlanta streetcar project is also informative. It covers about half the distance of the proposed Charlotte line between Presbyterian Hospital and Beatties Ford Road, but has the advantage of linking two of the Southeast’s most popular tourist destinations: the Georgia Aquarium on the north end of Centennial Olympic Park, and the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historic Site. Also not far from the route are a planned National Civil Rights Museum, the World of Coca-Cola and the future College Football Hall of Fame. Atlanta’s aquarium alone attracts nearly 2 million visitors each year. Charlotte’s Presbyterian Hospital? Hopefully less.

Whatever your opinion of the Charlotte streetcar, the following questions need to be part of the debate:

  • How will the streetcar project help reduce Charlotte’s traffic congestion in the decades ahead?
  • Is the city’s pursuit of the $119 million project worth risking the loss of state funding for the Blue Line extension?
  • Will the streetcar jeopardize a future transit tax referendum that could help fund the rest of the 2030 Transit Plan?
  • Where will the remaining $700 million come from to extend the line down Central Avenue to Eastland Mall?

Until City Council begins answering these questions, and not just those about the project’s potential economic development benefits, the streetcar debate will continue to divide the community and delay the adoption of a much-needed Capital Improvement Plan that can can help ensure Charlotte makes the investments that are necessary to keep pace with growth.