The North Carolina General Assembly last week passed and sent to Governor McCrory a Regulatory Reform bill with a number of positive provisions for the development industry. Supported by the North Carolina Home Builders Association (NCHBA), HB 44 (Local Government Regulatory Reform 2015) includes the following:
Permit Choice: this provision removes the exclusion for zoning permits which was carved out of the permit choice provision that became law last session. Where a local government or the State changes the substance of a rule or ordinance between the time the applicant submits an application for any type of development, the permit applicant may choose which version of the rule or ordinance will apply to the permit. This action allows a landowner to “vest” in the zoning classification which exists on the property when the application is filed. This will afford protection to landowners and protect against down-zoning when nearby residents object to a project.
Riparian Buffer Reform: This provision mandates the use of either the state or federal buffer standards, as applicable as the base standard, for all required riparian buffers. For example, NCHBA has long been concerned about local governments which exceed the required 50′ buffer without any scientific justification in river basins which require such buffers. This provision would require any local government which seeks to impose a greater buffer than that provided under state rules may do so only upon specific approval of the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC). The approval from the EMC must be based on local scientific evidence confirming that the larger buffer is scientifically justified. Local governments that currently have ordinances that exceed the base state or federal requirements may not continue to enforce those measures after January 1, 2017 unless approval has been granted by the EMC. Other language would restrict the use of riparian buffers to river basins where buffers are required by the state.
Local Requirement of a Voluntary State Regulation: This language prohibits a local government from enforcing a regulation or rule which the state has declared to be voluntary as a condition of development approval.
Development Agreements: This provision amends existing law regarding Development Agreements by removing any acreage limitation and allowing the parties to negotiate the term (length of time) of the agreement. This amendment will allow development agreements to be implemented for small lot projects particularly in downtown areas and will assist property owners or developers with securing long term financing for the entire project with extended assurances regarding vested rights to complete the project.