House bill limits local efforts to control home appearance
Posted March 13, 2013
Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina cities and towns would have less authority to control home appearance and design under a bill approved Wednesday by a House committee.
House Bill 150 passed the Regulatory Reform Subcommittee on Local Government on a voice vote and was sent to the House floor.
The bill addresses municipal efforts to use zoning to dictate architectural design and aesthetic details of single-family homes and duplexes, said sponsor Rep. Nelson Dollar, R-Wake.
"It's mind-boggling to me that we've gotten to this point," Dollar said, noting some locales go so far as to specify "what shade of beige the cornice is on your home."
The bill "balances the scales" between local control and home builders' efforts to provide a range of housing options for prospective buyers, he said, adding that subdivisions could still adopt covenants governing the appearance of homes in a particular neighborhood.
The proposal pits real estate interests against local governments, and Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane and Huntersville Mayor Jill Swain were among those who spoke against the bill during the committee hearing.
McFarlane said Raleigh has developed zoning regulations in response to community requests, with the overarching goals of continued growth and providing affordable housing. The city wants to control things like the placement of bedrooms and bathrooms within homes, she said, to ensure rooming houses don't sprout up in single-family neighborhoods.
Swain said Huntersville has provided home builders with some flexibility in terms of setbacks and lot sizes. In exchange, she said, the town wants to have some control over design so that new projects blend with existing neighborhoods.
Representatives of the building supply industry and real estate agents said the municipal regulations drive up the cost of housing by creating artificial barriers that must be overcome.
"Homeowners lose the ability and, quite frankly, their right to choose the design elements of their home as it fits their individual needs and desires," said Mark Zimmerman, legislative chairman of the North Carolina Association of Realtors.
The North Carolina Housing Coalition, a nonprofit that represents Habitat for Humanity and other groups working to expand affordable housing statewide, agreed with the builders that aesthetic controls lead to more expensive housing.
Rep. Jonathan Jordan, R-Ashe, said the bill boils down to the fact that local zoning authority is clearly spelled out in state law and that some cities are trying to stretch the rules.
"They can't add to our legislation," Jordan said. "We've been very clear about what they can do."