General Assembly Leaves Raleigh with Much Still Unfinished

nc-state-legislature-building-legislative-branch

The North Carolina General Assembly has entered the seventh-inning stretch.

Contrary to popular belief, the legislative session isn’t over, but on an extended break until May 14, 2014, when it returns to Raleigh for the 2014 Short Session. And while the past seven months saw legislators step out ambitiously on Tax Reform, Elections law and a host of social issues, many real estate industry priorities were left on the sidelines. Key bills that would limit residential design controls, promote redevelopment and eliminate inequitable neighborhood leverage in rezoning cases made it through the NC House, only to get shelved when they reached the Senate.

Here’s a summary of where our key industry bills sit at the end of session:

  • HB 74 (Regulatory Reform Act of 2013):  What began life as a bill to require the periodic expiration and review of existing state laws eventually morphed into the NCGA’s primary vehicle for regulatory reform in 2013. The House added language eliminating the use of Protest Petitions in local rezonings and a section that pre-empted any local environmental regulations exceeding state or federal law. Regrettably, these critical provisions were stripped out by Senate leadership, which also refused to include them in the Conference Committee substitute (a compromise bill agreed to by members of both chambers).Nevertheless, the bill still has some valuable provisions for the real estate industry, including the rule review language mentioned above, the removal of gravel and wooden decks from the state definition of ‘Built-Upon Area’, clarification of the process for appealing an Erosion/Sedimentation violation, and a 10-year statute of limitations for local enforcement actions against a grandfathered land use that violates a local zoning ordinance or comp plan. In addition, for the next year, local governments are prohibited from adopting any new environmental regulations that exceed state or federal law, unless they do by unanimous vote.Where It Stands: On Governor’s Desk.

    Where We Stand: REBIC is disappointed that the NC Senate chose not to include the Protest Petition and Pre-Emption language in this year’s Reg Reform legislation, and will continue to advocate for the passage of these provisions in the 2014 Short Session.

  • HB 120 (Building Inspections / Local Consistency): Extends the existing building code revision cycle for residential construction from 3 to 6 years, requires state code interpretations to be published online, and prevents local building code departments from requiring any more than the 8 inspections currently authorized under the state’s Administrative Code.Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: Kudos to the General Assembly for passing legislation that will better streamline the building code across the state, and to Representative Tricia Cotham (D-Mecklenburg) for leading the charge.

  • HB 150 (Zoning Design/Aesthetic Controls): Would prohibit local governments from regulating the appearance and architectural design of single-family homes and townhomes.

    Where It Stands: Passed House, now sitting in Senate Rules.

    Where We Stand: REBIC’s top priority was regrettably shelved in the Senate, which ironically passed a nearly identical bill in 2012. We’ll continue to advocate for it’s passage in 2014.

  • HB 192 (Allow ROW Usage in Central Business Districts):  Allows NCDOT to enter into agreements allowing local governments to enact ordinances permitting sidewalk dining in state ROW.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: A good piece of legislation that will make it easier for commercial property owners along state roadways to offer curbside dining.

  • HB 201 (Reinstate 2009 Energy Conservation Code):  Would repeal the 2012 North Carolina Energy Conservation Code for commercial buildings, and reinstate the 2009 Energy Code.

    Where It Stands: Passed House, now in Senate Rules.

    Where We Stand: A good bill that will help reduce construction costs for commercial and industrial developers. Will advocate for passage in 2014.

  • HB 276 (Zoning/Board of Adjustment Changes): Gives property owners and land developers better standing when they bring a case before their local Zoning Board of Adjustment (ZBA) by giving the board latitude to hear any appeal of a development or land use administrative decision, and removing any need for an appellant to prove loss of any ‘reasonable use’ of the property.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: A win for property owners and developers.

  • HB 480 (Environmental Permitting Reform): Requires NC DENR to create a fast-track process for approving storm water permits, with minimum design criteria that can be certified by a private engineer without the need for technical review.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: Good legislation that will reduce time and cost for the development industry.

  • HB 773 (Local Gvmts/Buildings/Structures/Inspections):  Would tighten restrictions on local Rental Registration programs, including mandatory universal registration of rental properties, posting requirements and misdemeanor penalties. It would effectively rollback most of Charlotte’s expansive Rental Registration program.

    Where It Stands: Passed the House on May 14th, now awaiting a hearing in Senate Commerce.

    Where We Stand: We support and will continue to advocate for passage by the Senate in 2013.

  • SB 81 (Charlotte Douglas International Airport): If we have to explain this, you’ve been living under a rock.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law, but Court injunction prevents it from being enacted … we think.

    Where We Stand: REBIC took no position.

  • SB 159 (Require Certain General Reappraisals):  Requires Mecklenburg County to conduct a full revaluation of properties in its tax digest and issue refunds to property owners when necessary.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: A good law that will ensure Mecklenburg County property owners are fairly refunded from a seriously flawed revaluation process in 2011.

  • SB 545 (Master Meters/Landlord-Tenant Agreement):  Provides for the use of a master meter for electric and natural gas service when the tenant and landlord have agreed in the lease that the cost of services shall be included in the rental payments and the service shall be in the landlord’s name.

    Where It Stands: Signed into Law.

    Where We Stand: A victory for rental property owners.

House Passes Landmark Regulatory Reform Package

legbuildingThe North Carolina House of Representatives approved legislation on Thursday that would bring big changes to the rezoning process and could roll back portions of local regulations that exceed state mandates, including Charlotte’s Post- Construction Controls Storm Water Ordinance (PCCO).

SB 112, “Create Jobs Through Regulatory Reform”, was approved 84 – 28 in a late afternoon vote, and now heads back to the Senate, where it will hopefully be concurred with early next week. This legislation would provide regulatory relief to the North Carolina real estate industry by:

  • Prohibiting cities and counties from enacting environmental regulations that are more stringent that existing state or federal regulations;
  • Repealing the authority of counties and cities to allow for protest petitions in rezoning cases; and,
  • Establishing a process for the review and expiration of existing state agency rules, and clarifying the definition of what constitutes a “policy”.

One such local ordinance that could be impacted by the passage of SB 112 would be the Charlotte PCCO, which was adopted with a Tree Save requirement that doesn’t exist in either state or federal law. While the existing federal NPDES permit would likely keep most of the PCCO intact, REBIC believes this provision could be challenged under the new law.

But it’s the elimination of the Protest Petition process that would have the greatest impact on property owners and developers, by removing a burdensome and costly process that effectively allows a small minority of citizens to hold a rezoning case hostage by forcing a supermajority vote. Should S 112 be signed by Governor McCrory, it will immediately make protest petitions a thing of the past, with the exception of those already filed.

Special thanks to House bill sponsors Rep. Tim Moffitt (R-Buncombe), Rep. Tom Murray (R-Wake) and Rep. Bill Brawley (R-Mecklenburg) who ensured that the provisions important to the real estate industry stayed in the bill, despite numerous amendments to remove them. Thanks also to Representatives Rob Bryan, Tricia Cotham, Becky Carney, Charles Jeter, Rodney Moore, Ruth Samuelson, Jacqueline Schaffer, who voted “YES” on the bill.

REBIC is working with the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA) to encourage Senate leadership to bring S 112 to the floor for concurrence as soon as possible, and will keep you appraised of the bill’s progress.

Regulatory Reform Bill Passes State Senate

legbuildingThe North Carolina Senate approved legislation this week that would make big changes to environmental permitting, and could roll back portions of local regulations that exceed state mandates, including Charlotte’s Post- Construction Controls Stormwater Ordinance (PCCO).

SB 612, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, was approved 36 – 11 in a Thursday afternoon vote, and now heads to the House for consideration. This legislation would provide regulatory relief to the citizens of North Carolina by:

  • Prohibiting cities and counties from enacting ordinances that are more stringent that existing state or federal regulations;
  • Creating a fast-track permitting process for stormwater and erosion control plans when certain minimum standards have been met and certified by the applicant’s engineer;
  • Allowing third-parties to a request a review of existing state rules through the NC Rules Review Commission;
  • No longer defining gravel as an impervious surface or “Built-Upon Area;”
  • Allowing brick and wood debris to be used as fill on development sites;
  • Clarifying the laws relating to groundwater compliance boundaries; and
  • Amending the prohibition on master metering to permit an all inclusive lease in a multi-family property.

Language that would have eliminated riparian buffer requirements on property in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River basins was removed by amendment during the floor debate, but could re-emerge in more limited form when the bill reaches the House. While this language would not affect the Charlotte area, both the North Carolina Association of REALTORS (NCAR) and the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA) have been advocating for a provision to grandfather lots platted prior to the effective date of the basin rules.

One such local ordinance that could be impacted by the passage of SB 612 would be the Charlotte PCCO, which was adopted with stricter redevelopment standards than are called for in state law. This one amendment, which REBIC has long advocated for, could save developers millions in infrastructure costs and substantially open the market for redevelopment of long-neglected intown sites. However, existing federal stormwater law may prevent any significant changes to the PCCO.

REBIC and members of the Charlotte Chamber Land Use Committee are meeting with City of Charlotte officials on May 13 to discuss how SB 612 may affect local regulation. We’ll continue to track the progress of this bill and other regulatory reform legislation, and advocate for their passage in the General Assembly.

General Assembly Tackles Regulatory Reform

nc-state-legislature-building-legislative-branchLegislation introduced last week in the General Assembly would make big changes to environmental permitting, and could roll back portions of local regulations that exceed state mandates, including Charlotte’s Post- Construction Controls Stormwater Ordinance.

SB 612, the Regulatory Reform Act of 2013, was introduced by Sens. Harry Brown (R-Onslow); Brent Jackson (R-Duplin) and Andrew Brock (R-Davie). This legislation would provide regulatory relief to the citizens of North Carolina by:

  • Prohibiting cities and counties from enacting ordinances that are more stringent that existing state or federal regulations;
  • Creating a fast-track permitting process for stormwater and erosion control plans when certain minimum standards have been met and certified by the applicant’s engineer;
  • Allowing third-parties to a request a review of existing state rules through the NC Rules Review Commission;
  • Allowing brick and wood debris to be used as fill on development sites;
  • Clarifying the laws relating to groundwater compliance boundaries;
  • Amending the prohibition on master metering to permit an all inclusive lease in a multi-family property; and,
  • Eliminating riparian buffer requirements on property in the Neuse and Tar-Pamlico River basins.

One such local ordinance that would be impacted by the passage of SB 612 would be the Charlotte PCCO, which was adopted with stricter redevelopment standards than are called for in state law. This one amendment, which REBIC has long advocated for, could save developers millions in infrastructure costs and substantially open the market for redevelopment of long-neglected intown sites.

Regulatory Reform has been tackled in each of the past two legislative sessions, and the 2013 General Assembly seems committed to taking additional steps to improve North Carolina’s standing as a business-friendly state that can attract economic development and new jobs.

We’ll continue to track the progress of SB 612 and other regulatory reform legislation, and advocate for their passage in partnership with the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA), the Charlotte Chapter of NAIOP, and the North Carolina Association of REALTORS.