House OKs protest petition repeal, other reforms
Posted June 25, 2014
Updated June 26, 2014
Raleigh, N.C. — House lawmakers voted 85-26 Wednesday night to approve a package of business and government reform proposals.
Senate Bill 734 is one of two bills into which House leaders split an earlier regulatory reform omnibus. Senate Bill 493, the other half of the package, dealing with health and safety issues, also won approval Wednesday evening.
Senate Bill 734 addresses a laundry list of issues, from the size of bail bondsmen's badges to zoning for fraternity and sorority houses to permanent license plates for charter schools.
The bill would allow alcohol sales in restaurants on North Carolina State University's Centennial Campus, ban high-intensity aftermarket headlights, limit cities' abilities to impose design and aesthetic rules for homes and grant a state broker exemption to encourage crowdfunding of start-ups.
A controversial proposal to remove mug shots from the public record was turned into a study provision.
The bill repeals the right of protest petition – a function of state law that allows a property owner to contest the rezoning of nearby property.
Rep. Graig Meyer, D-Orange, tried to amend the bill to keep the protest petition in place, saying that the provision was included in the state's original zoning law to protect the "balance of competing interests."
"It is meant to protect the investment of people who have developed their land in reliance on the zoning at the time," Meyer said. "Ordinary people who are meant to be protected by zoning rules will lose."
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, who also tried to save the protest petition with an unsuccessful amendment in committee, agreed, calling the repeal "unwise."
"Often, these zoning boards are composed of members of the industry – developers, realtors – and not as many citizens," she said, arguing that a study committee currently looking into the issue should be allowed to finish its work before lawmakers take action.
But Republicans maintained that the protest petition is unnecessary and unfair.
Rep. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, a commercial real estate agent, said protest petitions are most commonly used to block infill development – the type of "smart growth" supporters of public transit generally support.
Wells said cities' zoning and land-use planning processes are long and involved, giving concerned property owners plenty of opportunity to weigh on on proposed changes.
"All of this is open to the public. All of it is subject to input from neighbors," he said. "This is not some secret process that is restricting debate on an issue."
Rep. John Blust, R-Guilford, said he had sympathy for property owners fighting rezoning, noting that his mother had been involved in one such struggle in her Greensboro neighborhood.
"It did seem that the powers were weighed against them," Blust said.
Nonetheless, he said he supports the repeal of the protest petition.
"People still have a majority of the city council to protect them," he said. "This is a property rights issue.
"We have to trust our local governments. If the citizens don’t like their decisions on zoning, they can vote and change the city council," he argued.
The attempt to save the protest petition failed, 39-72.
Rep. Alma Adams, D-Guilford, tried to run an amendment to raise the minimum wage to $9 an hour. But despite the bill's already-far-flung subject matter, acting Speaker Tim Moore, R-Cleveland, ruled the amendment was not germane, so it was not considered.
After passing 85-26, the package is headed to the Senate for concurrence. It's likely to be sent to conference committee, where the two chambers can work out their differences.
The Senate's version of the bill had included a number of environmental regulation changes.