North Raleigh News

Cities, towns fight NC legislation that would limit their authority

State lawmakers considering stopping cities from enforcing residential design guidelines intended to prevent cookie-cutter neighborhoods, such as the Rutledge Landing neighborhood in Knightdale. City advocates say it’s important local governments keep control.
State lawmakers considering stopping cities from enforcing residential design guidelines intended to prevent cookie-cutter neighborhoods, such as the Rutledge Landing neighborhood in Knightdale. City advocates say it’s important local governments keep control. clowenst@newsobserver.com

City leaders are upset about a new push by state legislators to strip them of the power to regulate home designs and exert planning authority on their outskirts.

Bills filed this month are similar to legislation proposed last session that sparked outcry from mayors. The first would strike down residential guidelines that tell developers how homes must look. The second ends extraterritorial jurisdiction – the area outside city limits where city leaders control planning and zoning matters.

Rep. Nelson Dollar, a Cary Republican, said the measure on home design regulations is needed because some municipalities “had exceeded their authority beyond what was granted.” Some, he says, even claimed they had the power to dictate how many bedrooms a house can have.

“It certainly made the job of passing that in committee more easy,” Dollar said of the claim.

But Raleigh Mayor Nancy McFarlane said the bill would mean neighborhoods would lose protections that their residents sought.

“We think that citizens in the community should have a voice in how their community looks,” McFarlane said Tuesday, comparing the rules to homeowners’ associations that govern newer neighborhoods. “It’s really some of the older neighborhoods that we want to protect.”

The N.C. Metropolitan Mayors Coalition is lobbying against the bills, House Bill 36 (and a companion in the Senate, Senate Bill 25) and House Bill 51.

“The Metro Mayors believes that cities should have the statutory authority to develop their communities in ways that will attract the talented workforce that brings high quality jobs,” Director Julie White said in an email.

Cary leaders have said the bill would kill its “anti-monotony” rules that prevent developers from building homes that are nearly identical.

When a similar bill was proposed in 2013, it passed the House in a 98-18 vote but stalled in the Senate. Dollar says he’s “confident” it will clear both chambers this year.

The second bill drawing mayors’ ire – called the Justice for Rural Citizens Act – never made it to a full House vote last session. Opponents of extraterritorial jurisdiction argue it gives local leaders control over residents who can’t elect them because they live outside city limits.

Rep. Larry Pittman, the bill’s sponsor and a Concord Republican, said Tuesday that he’d only answer questions about the bill via email. He did not respond to emails.

McFarlane said cities need to establish ETJs to plan growth in areas that will eventually become part of the city.

“In cities where they can’t expand their borders, what you see is the strain on city services becoming stronger,” she said. “That’s when the city taxes start going up.”

McFarlane says Raleigh sets aside seats on the planning board and other appointed boards for ETJ residents so they have a voice in city government.

Mayors are also looking to state government to find revenue to replace the business privilege license tax, which was repealed last year. Gov. Pat McCrory has promised to help find alternative revenue sources, and a mayors’ group sent him a letter Jan. 28 saying his “proposal should be presented soon.”

Raleigh is already working on next year’s budget, McFarlane said, and without replacement revenue, “we have two choices: We can cut services or we can raise taxes.”

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