Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, chair of the new House Select Committee on Residential Permitting and Planning, fields questions from committee members at a hearing Thursday in Raleigh. Kirk Ross / Carolina Public Press

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A new N.C. House committee, charged with reviewing local residential permitting and planning, opened hearings last week with an aim to “streamline” permitting and create a more uniform approach across the state.

Rep. Mark Brody, R-Union, who chairs the new House Select Committee on Residential Planning and Permitting, said he intends to file a bill in the upcoming short session to reduce the amount of regulations imposed on developers and builders by local governments.

Local governments are abusing the permitting authority given to them under conditional use permits and other planning tools, Brody told Carolina Public Press in an interview after the committee’s initial hearing last week.

Some jurisdictions are using these tools to get around what the legislature intended, he said.

“We’ve got to reel that back,” Brody said.

“We’re here to say, ‘If you give the OK to build, then don’t put other conditions in that are over and above what are required.’ Once you give them the OK to go, you should leave them alone.”

Brody, who is a licensed general contractor, said the state needs a more uniform approach to give builders and developers more certainty going into a project. Right now, he said, local governments aren’t constrained.

“There’s no such thing as a state development code,” he said. “It’s basically, ‘Do what you want,’ (with) some limitations but very little.”

Litany of builder complaints

Committee members heard a litany of complaints Thursday from homebuilder representatives who said the cost of regulations continues to increase.

Cary-based developer Tom Anhut told legislators that as the economy booms, local governments in the Triangle region have started to demand more and more from developers, particularly when rezoning is required.

That includes adding things like affordable housing units and solar installations on a certain percentage of homes, Anhut said.

“Triangle-area municipalities continue to circumvent your state laws by extorting builders and developers through the use of voluntary entitlement commitments,” he said.

“They are openly snubbing their noses at the laws that you pass to address housing affordability while complaining that the housing being built is not affordable to the residents.”

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He cited examples from Raleigh, Apex, Cary and Wake Forest, saying those municipalities and others have “ratcheted up” construction standards and required commitments beyond what the law requires, which in turn has increased the cost of housing.

“Through these actions and many others, the very bodies that profess to be concerned about housing affordability continue to add significant cost development and building,” he said.

Local planning ability at risk?

Scott Mooneyham, director of political communications and coordination for the N.C. League of Municipalities, said putting new statewide limits on what local communities can do to manage development puts their planning ability at risk.

“These are complicated local issues,” Mooneyham told CPP in an interview Monday.

“Typically at the local level the local, officials deciding these issues have weighed a number of distinct local factors and all of the constituencies affected by these decisions.

“Attempting to do this at the state level with a one-size-fits-all solution from Raleigh would upend that balance and likely lead to decisions that would fail to take into account all interests.”

The legislature approved an extensive, 128-page rewrite of the state’s land use planning statutes last year, Mooneyham said.

While some of it was aimed at clarifying language and making technical changes to provisions added over the years, the bill, which will take effect  Jan. 1, contained several provisions backed by builders and developers, including how litigation and disputes over land use are settled.

“So, with these changes pending, is it not prudent to see how they affect developers before making further changes?” Mooneyham said.

What’s the legislative plan for permitting?

Brody said he plans to push forward in a number of areas, and the committee will spend the weeks before the late April start to this year’s short session of the legislature reviewing some of the issues he and others have heard from developers.

In addition to concerns about conditional use permits, Brody said he also wants to see the state set uniform standards for private road construction and prevent local governments from outright rejecting work by professional engineers and architects.

That would better streamline the process once a development has started, he said.

At Thursday’s hearing, Tom Terrell, an attorney with Fox Rothschild who specializes in land use law, distributed a set of proposed amendments he said would prevent local governments from rejecting the work of licensed traffic engineers and real estate appraisers.

“It simply says that when the developer starts the process, he will know what the bar is that he has to meet and that government cannot raise that bar arbitrarily in the middle of the process,” Terrell told the committee.

The next meeting of the select committee has not yet been scheduled. More information about the committee can be found on its website.


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Kirk Ross

Based in the Triangle, Kirk Ross is the capital bureau chief for Carolina Public Press. Contact him at kross@carolinapublicpress.org.

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