2015 General Assembly Update

HB 44 Local Government Regulatory Reform 2015 contains several very important provisions to our industry.

  • Contains a provision inserted by BASE that would not allow for local governments to insert a definition of dwelling unit, bedroom, or sleeping unit that is more expansive than any definition of the same. Meaning that the state Building Code should be the principal reference source when discussing definition of bedroom.
  • Permit choice-this provision removes the exclusion for zoning permits which was carved out of the permit choice provision which became law last session.  This action allows a landowner to “vest” in the zoning classification which exists on the property when the application is filed. This will afford protection to landowners and protect against downzoning when nearby residents object to a project.
  • Riparian Buffer Reform -this provision mandates the use of either the state or federal buffer standards, as applicable as the base standard, for all required riparian buffers.  This provision would require any local government which seeks to impose a greater buffer than that provided under state rules may do so only upon specific approval of the NC Environmental Management Commission (EMC). The approval from the EMC must be based on local scientific evidence confirming that the larger buffer is scientifically justified. Local governments that currently have ordinances that exceed the base state or federal requirements may not continue to enforce those measures after January 1, 2017 unless approval has been granted by the EMC. Other language would restrict the use of riparian buffers to river basins where buffers are required by the state.
  • Local’s requiring a voluntary state regulation-this provision prohibits a local government from enforcing a regulation or rule which the state has declared to be voluntary as a condition of development approval. For example, the Jordan Lake Rules have been held in abeyance (and are extended by the budget act) so no local government can force compliance with those standards as a condition in any zoning, land use, subdivision, or other development approval .
  • Development Agreements-this provision amends existing law regarding Development Agreements by removing any acreage limitation and allowing the parties to negotiate the term (length of time) of the agreement. This amendment will allow development agreements to be implemented for small lot projects particularly in downtown areas and will assist property owners or developers with securing long term financing for the entire project with extended assurances regarding vested rights to complete the project.

HB 765 Regulatory Reform Act of 2015:

  • Study Flood Elevation and Building Height Requirements-BASE worked with staff to require the Departments of Insurance and Department of Public Safety, along with the State Building Code Council to jointly study how flood elevations and building heights are affecting flood insurance rates. Every beach town has a variety of different ways they measure building height.  BASE would like to see consistency in measuring height and the ability for homeowners to realize savings for building out of the flood zone.  The results of the study are expected by March 1, 2016.

Other provisions that are important to our industry that NCHBA either crafted or supported include:

  • Additional Restrictions on Illegal Conditions-Cities and counties are barred from imposing conditions for which they do not have authority or which have been held to be unenforceable with respect to the issuance of special use or conditional use permits.
  • On Site Wastewater Amendments-Numerous provisions which improve the ability to permit wastewater sites, approve innovative technology and allow professional engineers to design and inspect wastewater systems. These changes will allow building on sites which currently are difficult or impossible to permit while providing innovative alternatives which will protect the environment.
  • Isolated Wetlands-NCHBA has addressed isolated wetlands in consecutive sessions.  This year the language set forth in conference report will allow for disturbing up to 1 acre of isolated wetlands east of I-95, ½ acre throughout the Piedmont, and 1/3 acre in the mountains without mitigating the losses.  The Environmental Management Commission will be responsible for drawing the lines for each geographic region by March 1, 2016. In addition, mitigation requirements will extend ONLY to the amount of impact which exceeds the thresholds set forth above. Finally, the impact to isolated wetlands shall not be combined with project impacts to federal jurisdictional wetlands (for which a federal 404 permit is required) or streams for the purpose of determining when impact thresholds are triggered.
  • Cluster Box Units-The legislation also extends by two years authority that was set to expire at the end of this year that clarifies that the addition of a cluster box unit to a single-family or duplex development permitted by a local government shall NOT require a modification to any stormwater permit for that development.   Cluster box units have become an issue for NCHBA over the last few years, with the USPS moving away from individual home delivery.  The USPS roll-out of the policy was not clearly stated to the development community.  This fix will help avoid unnecessary and costly changes to existing, or future, plans. The bill also contains several other important amendments to the state’s stormwater requirements.
  • Prohibit Mitigating for Impacts to Intermittent Streams-Except as required by federal law, the state will no longer be allowed to require mitigation for impacts to intermittent streams (those with a flow for only part of the year).

Other bills NCHBA focused on and were successful in their passage include:

SB25/HB 36 (Zoning/Design & Aesthetic Controls). ENACTED, Session Law 2015-86, effective 06/18/15.

HB 255/SB 324 (Building Code Regulatory Reform). ENACTED, Session Law 2015-145, effective 10/01/15

HB 201 (Zoning Changes/Citizen Input). ENACTED, Session Law 2015-160, effective 08/01/15.

HB 721 (Subdivision Ordinance/Land Dev. Changes).  ENACTED, Session Law 2015-187, effective 10/01/15.

House Bill 538 (Water and Sewer Service Related Changes).  ENACTED, Session Law 2015-207.

HB 168 (Exempt Builders’ Inventory).  ENACTED, Session Law 2015-223,  effective for taxes imposed for taxable years beginning on or after July 1, 2016, and applies to subdivision of or other improvements made on or after July 1, 2015.

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