North Carolina lawmakers passed a bill to make it clear that counties and municipalities have no authority to impose aesthetic regulations on residential building developers.
Senate Bill 25 passed second and third reading in the House 98-17 with bipartisan support Tuesday and is headed for the governor’s desk. It received equally substantial support in the Senate, passing 43-7, in April.
Sen. Rick Gunn, a primary sponsor of the bill and a Burlington Republican, said the bill was needed because lawmakers never meant for local governments to have authority to regulate exterior building aesthetics, including building colors.
“What we are seeing is an increasing amount of those municipalities and counties imposing these type of restrictions on their builders and on their citizens,” Gunn said during the Regulatory Reform House standing committee meeting Monday.
“Senate Bill 25 will remove any authority the local governments currently think they possess to do this.”
A majority of those who voted against the bill represent the Triangle area. The only Republicans to vote against it were all from Wake County: Sen. John Alexander, Sen. Tamara Barringer, and Rep. Chris Malone.
A number of Democrats from Wake, Durham, and Chatham counties voted against the bill as well.
Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat, said that cities and counties with aesthetics standards made a deliberate decision to put them on the books because they need it. If the citizens don’t like it, they can vote out their local officials.
“We should not at this level of government tell local governments what to do,” he said.
Others who opposed the bill expressed concern that the bill would create unintended consequences to property value.
According to the bill, aspects of a home that cannot be regulated are exterior building color, type or style of exterior cladding material, style or materials of roof structures or porches, exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation, location or architectural styling of windows and doors, number and types of rooms, and the interior layout of rooms.
Gunn said he has seen restrictions like those imposed throughout the state.
The bill does allow municipalities and counties to continue regulating: height, bulk, location of a structure on a zoning lot, buffering or screening to minimize visual impacts, to mitigate the impacts of light and noise or to protect the privacy of neighbors.
The bill makes exceptions for homes in historic districts or landmarks, as well as regulations to comply with safety and flood codes.
Gunn said that aesthetic controls are expensive to comply with and violate private property rights.
“We want that American dream to be realized. We are going to meet building and fire code, but we don’t need to be running up the price,” Gunn said.
The N.C. League of Municipalities sought to amend the bill while it was in committee, but failed.
“The result of today’s vote will be fewer protections from incompatible development for existing homeowners and the most important investment that most of them will ever make,” Scott Mooneyham, advocacy communications strategist for the league, said in a Tuesday statement. “Meanwhile, undermining neighborhood and community support for infill development likely will prove over time to be a setback and not a victory for those developers.”