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Legal Eagles: Alarms to zoning, with birds, bees, stormwater and more in between -- What local ordinance amendments will you need? 

by League General Counsel Kim Hibbard

In the lengthy 2015 General Assembly Session, an unprecedented number of provisions were enacted that may require local governments to revise their ordinances, policies and procedures to comply with state law. The subjects run the gamut from general police power, environment, utilities, and contracting, among others, but land use was the most common theme. 

In our July column, we discussed new legislation restricting design criteria in local zoning ordinances and a U.S. Supreme Court case striking down content-based sign regulations. We advised that these were good reasons to begin a review of your local land-use and development ordinances, and consider changes. Now there are even more reasons to do so. 

Protest petitions are no more, replaced by a process for citizens to file written comments, and voting rules now allow council members to abstain from votes on zoning ordinance changes (HB 201). Performance guarantees in subdivision ordinances and development agreements are capped, and may be used only for completion of improvements, not for ongoing maintenance (HB 721). Explicit language is added to the zoning-enabling statute to prohibit cities from imposing conditions or safeguards in special or conditional use permits for which the city does not have statutory authority to regulate or requirements that courts have held to be unenforceable if imposed directly by the city (HB 765). HB 765 also sets certain criteria for development activities under stormwater programs, and mandates that standards in local programs must equal, but not exceed, those in the state’s model. Note that all local stormwater programs must be submitted to the Environmental Management Commission by March 1, 2016 for review. 

HB 44, the local government regulatory reform bill, is filled with land-use provisions. Cities may no longer require riparian buffers larger than necessary to meet state and federal regulations, and must allow buffer areas to be used to meet other development requirements. An applicant for a zoning permit must be allowed to choose which version of the local ordinance will apply—the version at the time the application is submitted or when the permit decision is made. If the city applies or enforces a development ordinance outside its territorial jurisdiction, the city and the property owner must certify that application or enforcement of the ordinance is not being coerced or based on a threat of withholding land-use approval. Local governments are restricted from regulating certain types of fence wrap signage and may not define dwelling unit or bedroom more expansively than in state statute or agency rule. Cities are required to provide density credits or severable development rights for dedicated rights-of-way. Finally, cities are prohibited from requiring compliance with regulations that have been declared voluntary by a state agency or that have been delayed by the General Assembly. The prohibition extends to regulations incorporated as a condition in a development approval and appears to affect those jurisdictions subject to the Jordan Lake rules, which were delayed by a provision in the budget bill. In Byrd v. Franklin County (decided November 6), the Court signaled its agreement that a land-use ordinance may not be read to prohibit all uses that are not explicitly allowed. 

Municipalities should review ordinances and policies in the following areas: mandatory connection to water and sewer systems (new limitations), municipal service districts (new procedures/ limitations), animal control (beehives, conditions for farm animals), nuisance vegetation (notice for chronic violators), alarm ordinances (protected information), going-out-of-business sales (no city license), immigration sanctuaries (not authorized), policies on acceptable forms of identification (limited), and local procedures as to e-verify, pre-audit certificates, and local economic development incentives. 

To assist with that process, the End of Session Bulletin is available here. The League published a 2015 Summary of Legislation here with more detailed summaries of enacted legislation.