Cities and Towns Amend Ordinances Following Passage of Aesthetics Bill

A recently enacted state law, S.L. 2015-86, is requiring many local governments across North Carolina to amend their planning and zoning ordinances. Formerly known as SB 25, the new law makes it clear that cities, towns, and counties do not have the authority to impose design standards on single-family homes, townhomes and duplexes. Home builders had pushed for the legislation because some municipalities had made it difficult to provide affordable housing due to the rigorous standards.

The law 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.

Here’s the list of local governments in the Charlotte area which have, or are in the process of taking action, thus far:

Cabarrus County eliminated design standards by a unanimous vote during its August 17th meeting.

The Town of Harrisburg eliminated design standards by a unanimous vote on September 14th.

The Town of Mint Hill held a public hearing October 8th on a proposed text amendment.

The Town of Davidson held a public hearing October 13th on a proposed text amendment.

The Town of Cornelius will hold a public hearing October 19th on a proposed text amendment.

While most local governments have simply eliminated the nonconforming portions of their ordinances, the Town of Mint Hill has taken a different approach that does not seem to align with the intended spirit of the law. The proposed text amendment would force anyone building in a Conservation Subdivision to sign a “voluntary” agreement consenting to conform to aesthetic requirements in the current Unified Development Ordinance. It is possible this will invite potential litigation in the future or may entice the General Assembly to tighten up the statute.

In July, but Charlotte City Attorney Bob Hagemann told City Council members that the law will likely necessitate revisions to the city’s zoning and development ordinance to eliminate any by-right requirements that deal with residential design or materials. REBIC believes this also applies to small area plans, which often contain guidelines about residential character.

The Town of Huntersville, to this point, has also resisted eliminating its garage setback requirements. REBIC will continue to work with cities and towns in the Charlotte region to ensure they comply with the new law.  Any builders who experience difficulties with this issue are encouraged to contact Rob Nanfelt with REBIC at rob.nanfelt@REBIC.com or (720) 771-3825.

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