Under the Dome

NC Senate panel votes to kill zoning petition, offer property tax exemption

Rezoning opposition signs line a section of Falls of the Neuse Road Tuesday, January 10, 2015 in North Raleigh. Opponents of a proposed Publix grocery there say the protest petition process – which legislators are seeking to end – helped their efforts to stop the development.
Rezoning opposition signs line a section of Falls of the Neuse Road Tuesday, January 10, 2015 in North Raleigh. Opponents of a proposed Publix grocery there say the protest petition process – which legislators are seeking to end – helped their efforts to stop the development. tlong@newsobserver.com

The Senate Commerce Committee on Tuesday backed bills that would end a zoning petition process and exempt some new developments from paying property taxes.

A nearly unanimous vote favored a House bill that would stop protest petitions, a process that helps property owners fight development on neighboring land.

Under current law, if enough neighbors sign a petition, the rezoning needs a 75 percent city council vote for approval – instead of a simple majority. Opponents say that gives neighbors too much power over private property, but supporters of the process say it’s an essential tool to protect neighborhoods

Sen. Andy Wells, a Hickory Republican who’s leading efforts to pass the bill, said a simple majority council vote ensures the best outcome – and a supermajority requirement can mean a development proposal often hinges on a single vote.

The committee heard from several neighborhood leaders who say the Senate should keep the petition process.

David Cox, who successfully led opposition to a proposed Publix grocery in North Raleigh, said the supermajority requirement helped kill the unpopular development.

“Developers have deep pockets, and the (protest petition) helps us level the playing field a bit,” he said.

But Mike Carpenter of the N.C. Homebuilders Association said the process allows a few opponents to kill development. “The cities of North Carolina have lost a great number of excellent projects over the years,” he said. “It is time for this process to end.”

The Senate committee stripped out a bill provision added in the House by Rep. Graig Meyer, a Hillsborough Democrat, which would require a 30-day written notice to surrounding property owners for any rezoning vote. And Wells said he wouldn’t back a suggestion from Sen. Floyd McKissick, a Durham Democrat, to tweak the protest petition process rather than eliminate it.

Tax exemption moves forward

A second bill garnering support in Senate Commerce Tuesday would allow residential and commercial developers to avoid property taxes on improvements like roads and utility lines – until they break ground on buildings.

Supporters of that bill said the exemption will help developers afford infrastructure needed to attract tenants or buyers. The exemption would be available for up to three years on residential property and up to five years on commercial property.

“I think you’ll see more investments in our communities,” said Sen. Harry Brown, a Jacksonville Republican. “I think it will spur growth and help the tax base long-term.”

But the bill is opposed by the N.C. League of Municipalities and the Association of County Commissioners, which estimate local governments could lose $50 million to $60 million in revenue if the exemption becomes law.

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Twitter: @RaleighReporter

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