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NC cities unhappy with return of home design bill

Homebuilders in North Carolina have been trying for years to block cities and counties from dictating how their projects look. Legislation that would accomplish that finally began moving forward last week.

A wide-ranging regulatory overhaul bill that the House approved, SB734, includes a provision prohibiting local government from imposing design controls on houses and duplexes. The provision is, word for word, a two-page bill that was filed last year, cleared the House and languished in the Senate.

Design elements defined in the bill include the exterior color, type or style of cladding, roof, ornaments, style of windows and doors, including garage doors, and the number of rooms and the interior layout of those rooms.

Lisa Martin, a lobbyist for the N.C. Homebuilders Association, said earlier this year that local governments can still regulate the use of the property – by forbidding multifamily dwellings, for example. The bill doesn’t cover commercial buildings, and it doesn’t prevent cities from imposing design controls in historic districts.

“Local governments do not have the authority to regulate design elements,” she said. “It’s not taking away anything that they had. They never had it.”

Paul Meyer, executive director of the N.C. League of Municipalities, said in an interview that the tension between developers and communities has played out in the General Assembly for years.

“Through conditional zoning there’s a discussion between the town, developer and usually neighbors, and aesthetic issues may or may not be on the table,” Meyer said. “Traditionally, these types of issues are resolved that way. The development community got frustrated by that process.”

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Republican from Cary, tacked the homebuilders’ bill onto the regulations bill, which the House rewrote from a Senate version and sent back to the Senate on Thursday.