Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Buggy whips still gone, but protest petitions survive

Bill that would limit N.C. cities' power to ban projecting garages passed the N.C. House but not the N.C. Senate. This street in Corpus Christi, Texas, features so-called "snout houses." Photo: Brett VA, Creative Commons
 It turns out protest petitions did NOT go the way of buggy whips, at least not in the just-ended session of the N.C. General Assembly.

Here's what I wrote last month: "Protest petitions going the way of buggy whips." But elected officials are nothing if not predictably unpredictable. As The Charlotte Observer's Jim Morrill wrote (while I was vacationing at the beach) : "Right to protest zoning changes survives N.C. Legislature."

The bill that contained the end of protest petitions also contained a variety of other regulatory changes. This one will be of particular concern to environmentalists: As the blog for the Real Estate and Building Industry Coalition put it, "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."  Here's a link to that REBIC blog item.

The not-loved-by-planners provision that would limit local government's ability to regulate the placement of doors, windows and other architectural elements for single-family housing and some multifamily - House Bill 150 - passed the N.C. House but didn't make it out of the Senate. REBIC notes this bill was its top priority.

Planners had deep concerns that it would ban them from regulating so-called snout houses, in which garages projecting from the front of houses can, in subdivisions of look-alike houses, create the visual image of a street of garages, rather than a street of houses. In addition, a growing number of communities have adopted form-based zoning codes (here's a link to the Form-Based Codes Institute) which worry less about density or the uses of buildings, giving developers far more flexibility, but which instead concentrate on how well buildings fit in with their surroundings. Architectural design elements play a larger role in a form-based code than in a conventional zoning ordinance.

For a pro-con package on House Bill 150, check out PlanCharlotte.org's articles from March: Bill to limit local zoning powers: two views.

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