State Politics

NC legislators move to repeal landowner power in development fights

Landowners’ special influence over nearby development is under a threat in the state legislature.

Two bills pending in the state Senate and House would abolish “protest petitions,” which have played a major role in rezoning fights in cities across the state. One of the bills has the backing of Rep. Paul Stam, a leader of the state House.

Currently, state law gives a special power to anyone who owns land within 100 feet of a site proposed for rezoning. A rezoning is a change to the rules that govern a particular piece of land, often requested by developers in order to allow the construction of more homes or bigger buildings on the lot.

The protest petition process allows neighbors of a proposed development to formally challenge the land-use change, making it more difficult for the applicants to win approval to build their project.

If enough neighbors sign a protest petition, any rezoning would then need more “yes” votes in the city council that is making the decision. Protest petitions are not expressly authorized for county commission zoning decisions.

A rezoning in which a valid protest petition applies needs 75 percent approval of the governing board, instead of a simple majority.

The bills, Senate Bill 300 and House Bill 201, both would repeal that power from state law. Similar bills appeared in 2013 and 2014, but the protest petition survived those legislative sessions.

The Senate bill says it aims to restore “majority rule” to municipal law and is sponsored by Republican senators Andy Wells and Michael Lee and Democratic Senator Jane Smith. It was introduced on Tuesday; Lee and Smith represent Eastern North Carolina districts, while Wells is from Hickory.

The House bill, introduced last week, has 12 sponsors. It is described as a bill that changes “the process by which the city councils receive citizen input” in zoning cases. Its primary sponsors are Stam and Rep. John Fraley, both Republicans, and Democrats Darren Jackson and Ken Goodman. Stam and Jackson represent Wake County.

The House bill goes to that body’s local government committee on Thursday at 10 a.m.

Kenney: 919-829-4870;

Twitter: @KenneyNC