General Assembly Approves Legislation Prohibiting Local Residential Design Controls

By a vote of 98- 17, the North Carolina House of Representatives last week passed a bill that would restrict the ability of local governments to place costly architectural and aesthetic design requirements on residential construction. The bill passed the Senate in late April, and is now headed to the Governor’s desk.

The entire Mecklenburg County delegation voted YES on SB 25 ‘Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls’, with the exception of Reps. Tricia Cotham and Jacqueline Schaffer, who both missed the vote due to illness. If signed by Governor McCrory, SB 25 would rein in cities and towns that have been exceeding their statutory authority by regulating the architectural design of new single-family homes, townhomes and duplexes.

Many local governments across the state currently impose residential design mandates through both by-right requirements and zoning conditions that add to the cost of housing and infringe upon consumer choice. These mandates include requirements on exterior material, incorporation of certain color schemes,  the location of garages, minimum window spacing, and façade design, among others.

As it costs roughly $5,000 to add brick to each side of a 1,500-SF single-family home, regulations (like those in the Town of Mint Hill) that require a four-sided brick home, currently add as much as $20,000 to the final price. On a home priced at $150,000 (the upper end of what a household at 80% AMI would be able to afford in Mecklenburg County), this represents a price increase of more than 13 percent – easily pricing a large number of buyers out of the community.

Unlike elements of the building code, which regulate consumer health and safety, these aesthetic design requirements are non-structural in nature and serve no legitimate public purpose. More importantly, the General Assembly has never given local governments the statutory authority to regulate building design.

SB 25 clarifies that zoning ordinance regulations on “building design elements” may not be applied to residential structures governed by the NC Residential Code (one and two family dwellings and townhomes).

This legislation does not prohibit design requirements pertaining to local historic districts or areas listed on the National Register.  It does not interfere with neighborhood covenants or private contracts. And it DOES NOT prevent property owners from freely offering architectural conditions as part of a rezoning or development approval. It will, however, ensure that housing in North Carolina remains affordable, and preserve the rights of builders and consumers to decide what their home should look like.

REBIC thanks all our Charlotte-area Senators and Representatives for supporting this important legislation, particularly Senators Jeff Tarte, Joel Ford, Andrew Brock and Tommy Tucker, who sponsored the Senate bill, and Representatives Bill Brawley, Rob Bryan, Tricia Cotham and Rodney Moore, who sponsored identical legislation in the House.

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