Under the Dome

NC Senate panel votes to limit cities on home designs

Houses appear to be stacked up in the Rutledge Landing neighborhood near Knightdale. The N.C. Legislature is making efforts to ban cities from enforcing residential design guidelines, which are intended to prevent cookie cutter neighborhoods.
Houses appear to be stacked up in the Rutledge Landing neighborhood near Knightdale. The N.C. Legislature is making efforts to ban cities from enforcing residential design guidelines, which are intended to prevent cookie cutter neighborhoods. clowenst@newsobserver.com

An N.C. Senate committee voted Thursday for a bill that would prevent cities and towns from regulating home designs – a change that homebuilders have sought for years.

Senate Bill 25 would strike down residential guidelines that tell developers how homes must look. Republicans say the change is needed because some municipalities “had exceeded their authority” and claimed they had the power to dictate, for example, how many bedrooms a house can have.

Sen. Brent Jackson, a Sampson County Republican, suggested that the municipal requirements drive up the cost of housing. “Are (cities and towns) contributing at all to the cost of building that?” he said.

But the N.C. League of Municipalities opposes the bill. League lobbyist Rose Vaughn Williams said the change would harm homeowners who rely on the guidelines to prevent substandard new construction in their neighborhoods.

“They want to maintain that character of their home,” she said.

Sen. Tamara Barringer, a Cary Republican, said she has a friend who lives in an unregulated area where a builder began constructing lower quality homes.

“The neighborhood changed very quickly,” Barringer said. “In a period of 18 months, their property value plummeted. It really was an unfair situation for them.”

The League of Municipalities is pushing for a compromise measure that would limit cities from mandating design in new neighborhoods but would maintain some regulations governing construction in established neighborhoods.

The compromise would still impact towns like Cary that have “anti-monotony” rules that prevent developers from building homes that are nearly identical.

“We understand the reality of this bill and its history, and so the League members voted for a compromise,” Williams said.

Rep. Stephen Ross, a Burlington Republican, agreed to back the compromise in the House, but so far no changes to the legislation have been made there. The Senate bill’s identical companion, House Bill 36, has been awaiting a hearing in the House Local Government Committee since early February.

The proposal took a different track when a similar bill was proposed in 2013. That legislation passed the House 98-18 but stalled in the Senate.

The Senate bill is scheduled for a full vote on Monday night.

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