A House bill that ends the use of a tool North Carolina residents have used to influence development around their property will soon become law.
House lawmakers voted 82-28 Wednesday to concur with the Senate version of legislation to end “protest” petitions for rezoning cases. The bill will be sent to Gov. Pat McCrory, who has indicated he would sign it.
The bill undoes a state law that can make it harder for rezoning requests to get approval. Now, when enough neighbors within a 100-foot radius of property proposed for rezoning sign a protest petition, a super majority – 75 percent – of the governing board must approve the new zoning.
The bill eliminates the petition, requiring only a simple majority approval.
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McCrory told reporters earlier this month that he has “felt majority rule should be the case in all governments unless they’re veto overrides and things of that nature.”
Though the House had already passed House Bill 201, the concurrence vote Wednesday elicited debate from representatives who said residents would be put at a disadvantage against developers with resources to sway a local governing board.
“It’s not unreasonable at all and necessary to level the playing field,” said Rep. Paul Luebke, a Durham Democrat. “It’s important to recognize that many cities have this. The city councils support the fact that it exists. And the residents like it.”
Rep. Marilyn Avila, a Raleigh Republican, agreed, saying the protest petition gives a stronger group voice to property owners who are threatened by development.
“Why is this (bill) a necessity? Have we really crippled development?” she asked. “I don’t think so.”
Rep. Paul Stam, an Apex Republican and primary bill sponsor, urged his colleagues to vote for it and asked why a city council would even consider a rezoning case that is harmful to the community.
Tired of hearing the opposition argue that the bill eliminates the voice of citizens, Rep. Michael Speciale, a New Bern Republican, stood to emphasize that the law would only reduce the super majority vote to a simple majority.
“We are not going to let you continue to re-frame this issue. Everything I’ve heard you say is about taking away citizens’ rights,” Speciale said. “They can still protest. Don’t say it’s taking away their right to protest, because it’s not.”
Individual municipalities that want to keep some form of the protest petition process may be able to gain that authority in the future.
Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, had begun an effort to add an exemption for city councils that would like to keep the protest petition when the bill was discussed in the Senate.
In an interview, McKissick said he thought it would be more productive to work individually with municipalities that want to re-obtain that authority.
“If a local community wanted it and sought that authority as a local act under new conditions, there would be an opportunity,” he said.