Centralina Convenes Regional Planners to Help Inform the General Assembly on the Impact of Revisions to Planning and Zoning Statutes

Before the close of  the year, Centralina convened planners from across the region to discuss potential impacts of proposed revisions to North Carolina’s Planning and Zoning statutes. 

The NC Bar Association developed a draft amendment to the Planning and Zoning statutes in an effort to enact comprehensive changes that will make the statutes more organized and easier for elected officials, planners, citizens and courts to work with moving forward, thus helping to control the cost of government.   

Chad Meadows, American Planning Association (APA) NC Legislative Chair, led the discussion and asked participants to submit their questions and feedback for incorporation into a statewide response to the North Carolina General Assembly from APA-NC.  

The North Carolina General Assembly convened on January 14, 2015 and will be contemplating the comprehensive changes to zoning and planning land use law. 

If addressed and enacted during the legislative session, these proposed changes will affect all counties and municipalities across North Carolina.

Some of the proposed revisions would directly affect land use decisions and procedure in the future.   Drafting Committee Chair, attorney Tom Terrell, described these proposals as “good government changes, not initiated by any group trying to gain legislative advantage.”  Some of the more significant changes are briefly described here:

  • The requirement for an adopted comprehensive plan as a condition of regulating development.  While these plans would have only an advisory status, the law would grant a level of authority to coordinated planning.
  • Conditional use district zoning is replaced with legislative conditional zoning.  Conditional use zoning involves the two-step process of legislative rezonings followed by the quasi-judicial process of a conditional use permit.  Legislative conditional zoning eliminates the conditional use permit and incorporates all of the site-specific standards directly into the zoning district regulations.  Conditional zoning and special use permits are retained, but are not consolidated into a single hearing and decision.
  • The development agreement process would no longer require a 25 acre minimum for brownfield or Central Business District (CBD) sites, making them more adaptable to urban settings.
  • ALL quasi-judicial decision appeals would go to superior court, including Certificates of Appropriateness that may have once first gone to a Board of Adjustment.  This creates a uniform method of appeal.
  • Common law vesting is codified.  It includes an automatic reversion to pre-existing zoning if a vested right is not established.  Conditional rezonings automatically reverse in 3 years with the intention of halting the practice of speculative zoning and the holding up of utility capacity.
  • Public hearings would take three forms:  legislative, evidentiary, administrative.
  • New incentives to provide affordable housing would include density bonuses.

Some of the proposed changes will not directly affect land use practice, but they will require changes to every development code in the state.  Examples of the proposed changes include:

  • Combining county and municipal statute chapters into one overall consolidated Chapter 160D.
  • Incorporating a section of term definitions in all zoning ordinances.
  • Recognizing both paper and digital zoning maps, and giving charge over these documents to local government clerks.

North Carolina's zoning and land use statutes were originally adopted over 90 years ago, when zoning and land use were in their infancy.  The last time legislative consideration was given to collecting and organizing these regulatory statutes was in 1971.  

Centralina will continue to follow action on this effort as the legislative session moves forward and will provide information as local action is needed.   If you have questions or would like more information about the proposed statutory amendments, contact Michelle Nance, Planning Director, at mnance@centralina.org.

Related Counties: AllCounties     
Related COG Areas: Planning