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ACTION ALERT: Contact Senate on Sweeping Land Use Reform Bill

Please reach out to senators this weekend to discuss cities' concerns with a plan that would make sweeping land use law changes. The Senate Judiciary I Committee intends Tuesday to resume a discussion it began this week on HB 483 Land-Use Regulatory Changes. Among other changes, the bill would incentivize litigation at local taxpayer expense, weaken protections for neighboring property owners of new developments, and undermine infrastructure performance guarantees that protect new property owners and local taxpayers.

The League opposes this bill in its current form and urges you to contact your legislators to let them know of the potential harm created by HB 483. This bill disrupts local land-use regulations that work in concert to protect all municipal property owners. In your discussions with legislators, let them know about the specific ways that local land use rules have protected the investments of property owners in your city or town, and urge them to slow down and consider how the wide-ranging changes in this bill may affect those citizens and their investments. Click here for more background on the bill. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Land Use Regulatory Reforms Change Before Advancing

House members banded together Wednesday in response to concerns raised by League members over three land use regulatory reforms, improving each of them before voting unanimously to send those proposals and others to the Senate. The League appreciates all House members recognizing these concerns and, in particular, thanks Reps. Skip Stam, Dan Bishop, Dennis Riddell, and Chris Millis for their work on these measures. Following the changes, these three provisions do the following:

  • Rezoning. By operation of law, makes any zoning amendment also a comprehensive plan amendment or unified development ordinance. This week's House changes clarify that the action limits the comprehensive plan amendments to the rezoned parcel. (Section 2.4)
  • Subdivision changes. Exempts from subdivision controls (except for recording a plat) any subdivisions of land greater than five acres into three-or-less lots. Before approving this proposal, the House added numerous League-requested clarifications, including language that ensured these lots would still adhere to a local government's development standards. Also exempts from all subdivision controls those subdivisions done in accordance with the terms of a probated will or the state's intestate succession laws. (Section 2.5)
  • Land use violations/statute of limitations. Institutes a six-year statute of limitations for enforcement of any local or state land-use regulations, beginning when a violation is "apparent" from a public right-of-way or in plain view from a place to which the public is invited. Within that six years, shortens the time frame for code enforcement to three years once the local government actually knows of the violation. Contains one exclusion to this limitation, in the cases of enforcement of dangers to public health or safety. (Section 2.6)

The League will continue to work with proponents of these provisions as they receive further consideration to address outstanding concerns, and appreciates their willingness to listen to the viewpoint of the state's municipalities. Contact: Erin Wynia


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Utility Permit Fee Prohibition Proposed In Senate Bill

One section of a wide-ranging Senate bill would effectively prohibit municipalities from charging utility companies fees related to work in municipal rights-of-way. Section 19 of HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws prohibits such fees unless the cost of managing a right-of-way exceeds the revenue distributions that cities receive from utility-related taxes. Cities administer permits for work in municipal rights-of-way. And as utility companies have increased right-of-way activities, such as the laying of fiber for high-speed Internet connections, some cities have instituted fees to help offset the costs of issuing these permits. Such fees would now be banned under this legislation. After passing one committee and originally being scheduled for the Senate calendar, the bill was re-referred to the Senate Finance Committee. Contact: Chris Nida

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Schools-Related Street Improvement Bill Advances

The House gave final approval on Thursday to a bill that would restrict the types of street improvements that municipalities could require of schools and give the N.C. Department of Transportation final approval of the design of any of those requirements. The House unanimously passed SB 778 Performance Guarantees/Subdivision Streets. Before passage, Rep. Paul Stam ran an amendment removing sections of the bill that would have allowed schools by right in all local zoning districts. The legislation still limits the types of street improvements that municipalities can require of schools to those related to safe ingress and egress and physically connected to a school's driveway. The costs of these improvements would be reimbursed by NCDOT. Rep. Stam, Rep. John Torbett, and legislative staff worked extensively with the League during development of SB 778, and we thank them for taking the concerns of cities into account. SB 778 now moves on to the Senate for further consideration. Contact: Chris Nida

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Electronic Public Records Capture Lawmakers' Attention

State and local agencies may soon gain the authority to satisfy public records requests exclusively through electronic means. Both the House and Senate advanced identical public records provisions in their respective regulatory reform bills this week (House provision, Section 2.11; Senate provision, Section 18), suggesting agreement between the two chambers. The provision would allow public agencies to exclusively fulfill public records responsibilities by making public records or computer databases available online in a downloadable format. This provision may conflict with current law, which requires agencies to produce records in any format in which they exist, upon request. Legislators stated in committee debate that they included this provision at the request of the state’s registers of deeds, who had raised concerns that their offices were becoming less efficient by having to respond to requests for paper copies of records that were already available publicly online.

Meanwhile this week, the House attempted to move a bill that would direct an interim study group to take a broader look at streamlining the provision of public records. However, parliamentarians ruled the bill ineligible for consideration this session, so if the idea becomes law, it would do so as part of a different omnibus bill later this session. Contact: Erin Wynia


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House Removes Fire Code Threat

After an intense lobbying effort by firefighters, the House reversed course this week on a proposal to study streamlining the state building code (SB 303 Regulatory Reform Act of 2016, Edition 4, Section 2.15). Based on a recent discussion at the N.C. Building Code Council where council members considered eliminating significant provisions of the fire code, fire and municipal stakeholders grew concerned that the House study aimed for the same result. State policymakers added those sections to the state building code following the 1991 Hamlet chicken plant fire that killed 25 people. As a result, local fire marshals now inspect buildings during construction to ensure fire safety measures are correctly installed. The state building code also authorizes fire marshals to inspect the fire safety features of non-residential structures on a regular basis after construction. Contact: Erin Wynia

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This Week's Other Legislative Activity

As budget negotiations continued, and with hope that the legislative session's end is in sight, the House and Senate were busy this week taking action on a variety of legislation. The following bills saw activity and may be of interest to municipalities:

  • HB 1035 LGC/Training for Local Gov't Finance Officers, which would allow the Local Government Commission (LGC) to require local government finance officers and other employees with finance duties to attend a training related to those duties, passed the House this week and will next be heard in the Senate.
  • SB 363 Wage & Hour/Local Gov’t Assessments, which provides flexibility for development of infrastructure by extending existing assessment authorities to allow cities and counties to fund infrastructure projects for private development, passed the House and includes League-suggested language to ensure that the action is voluntary and that a local government would only owe the developer the revenue that the assessment produces, less any administrative costs. It will next be considered by the Senate. Read previous League coverage here.
  • HB 169 Regulatory Reduction Act of 2016, the Senate’s first proposed regulatory reform package, passed the Senate on Monday. Included in the bill's many provisions were repeals of the landfill ban on electronics (such as televisions and computers) and requirements to recycle that electronic waste. Instead of scheduling a concurrence vote, the House referred the bill to its committee on Regulatory Reform (read previous League coverage here). The Senate also took action on another large bill this week by introducing changes in committee to HB 593 Amend Environmental & Other Laws. In addition to the utility permit fee prohibition and electronic records provisions noted above, this bill includes language to exempt additional surfaces of landscaping material from the definition of built-upon area in the implementation of stormwater programs (Section 2). HB 593 will next be heard by the Senate Finance Committee.
  • SB 303 Regulatory Reform Act of 2016, the House’s regulatory reform bill, passed the House this week. In addition to the land use provisions notes above, the bill was amended to contain a study of when local governments should be allowed to exceed riparian buffer requirements and what measures are needed to ensure local governments do not exceed their statutory authority for establishing those buffer requirements (Sec. 3.9(b)). In discussion of this provision, Rep. Chris Millis noted that it is the intent that this study clarify how the Department of Environmental Quality interpreted buffer reforms adopted by the legislature last year. This bill will next be considered by the Senate.
  • HB 1044 Law Enforcement Omnibus Bill, which makes various changes to law enforcement statutes, passed the House this week and will next be considered by the Senate. Provisions include the (1) establishment of a “Blue Alert System” to aid in the apprehension of a suspect who inflicts serious bodily injury to a law enforcement officer; and the (2) expansion of the definition of "emergency" as used in the North Carolina Emergency Management Act to include acts of terrorism, public health incidents, explosions, technological failures, or other incidents caused by transportation, radiological, chemical or hazardous materials accidents.
  • HB 763 Military Operations Protection Act of 2016 was revealed this week in the Senate and, among many other provisions, makes further changes to the prohibition of tall buildings and structures near military installations. This bill received initial approval of the Senate and is scheduled to be considered for a final vote on Monday. It may see revisions related to controversial provisions regarding military training flight paths and wind turbines. Read more here.

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Greensboro Picked for Major Data Initiative

Greensboro is set to show how data can improve public sector services. The Gate City is one of 12 municipalities nationwide added to Bloomberg Philanthropies' What Works Cities initiative, which launched in April 2015 as one of the "largest ever philanthropic efforts" to improve how municipalities apply data and evidence, according to the group. "The addition of the new cities demonstrates the growing interest by local government leaders to use data and evidence to make better decisions and improve results for city residents," stated a Bloomberg Philanthropies press release. Participating cities like Greensboro will receive technical assistance and connect to a network of city leaders focused on organizing and applying data in their planning and programming. What Works Cities will review their current data practices and assess how they can enhance them. Other cities announced to the program include Buffalo, N.Y.; Topeka, Kan.; Scottsdale, Ariz.; and Providence, R.I. Click here for a news release from the City of Greensboro.

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Census: Most North Carolinians Live in Municipalities

Sixty percent of North Carolinians now live in municipalities, according to new census data. Carolina Demography, at the UNC Population Center, released an analysis of the figures on Tuesday and found that the state's largest numeric population gains since 2010 were in its bigger cities -- Charlotte, Raleigh, Durham, Cary and Greensboro. Meanwhile, the largest gains percentage-wise were in smaller towns -- Rolesville, Holly Ridge, St. James, Waxhaw and Fuquay-Varina. Rolesville itself had a 66.1 percent growth rate, adding more than 2,500 residents for a population of 6,289 as of July 1, 2015. The numbers also showed that five North Carolina cities were among the top-100 in the nation for headcount -- Charlotte, Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham, and Winston-Salem. Most places, however, experienced population losses or slow growth in the time period measured, with 29 percent of municipalities having lost population since 2010.

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Garner Recruitment Shows Public-Private Teamwork

Garner's recruitment of a new vegetarian-focused production facility is the fruit of teamwork among local government and the private sector, town and company officials said this week. The public on Tuesday learned that Improved Nature LLC, maker of meat-substitute products, had picked the Wake County municipality for the company's first production facility -- a $3 million investment bringing 15 jobs with an average annual salary of $50,000. The company also announced plans for the coming years to expand into a larger facility and recruit another 150 employees. The town in a press release credited its deliberate, pro-business environment for the company's investment. “This project is a great example of how government and private enterprise can work together to spur investment and create jobs,” said Garner Economic Development Director Joe Stallings. Improved Nature CEO Rody Hawkins said the town was at the table to assist its location effort and that many of the company's founders had strong ties to the area. Read media coverage here.