Don’t undermine neighborhood zones

Mar. 17, 2013 @ 08:21 PM

A frequent call by Republicans who hold a solid majority in both North Carolina legislative houses – as well as holding the governor’s mansion – is for less state interference and more local control.

We hope that philosophy holds when the legislature considers a bill backed by the N. C. Home Builders Association to prohibit local governments from regulating “building design elements” of single-family houses, duplexes and townhouses. The bill’s advocates, led by a group of 16 Republican legislators supporting the bill, argue that some municipalities over-regulate home building and construction trades.

We are not unsympathetic to those concerns. Dealing with varying local regulations from city to city or county to county can complicate life for builders working in several areas. 

The bill, however, would undermine efforts by local governments, including those in Durham and Chapel Hill, to safeguard the character of neighborhoods in transition and to keep neighborhoods from tipping from historic single-family enclaves to inappropriate over-stuffed multifamily.

Those local provisions are important “to maintain a focus on the vision of what a town is going to be and its own character and flair,” according to Paul Meyer, head lobbyist of the N. C. League of Municipalities.

As The Herald-Sun’s Ray Gronberg reported Sunday, the bill would seem to put at particular risk the “neighborhood protection” zone in the Tuscaloosa-Lakewood Neighborhood and “neighborhood conservation districts” in Chapel Hill.

The Tuscaloosa-Lakewood restrictions, sought by neighborhood residents, are designed to preserve the eclectic character of its housing stock and calls for special attention to facades, porches, doors and windows.

In Chapel Hill, neighborhoods covered by the conservation districts include historically black Pine Knolls and Northside, where residents and town leaders feared the voracious demand for housing for UNC students could overrun the areas with student-rental conversions.

It should be noted that our local homebuilders’ association neither asked for nor is pushing the legislation, where the group has not received any complaints about Durham and Chapel Hill restrictions. That’s evidence, we suspect, that local homebuilders understand the benefits we’ve reaped economically by working to preserve and enhance our unique local characteristics.

The push for the legislation may also point to the hazards of overreaching in establishing such protection.  Frank Thomas, the local homebuilders’ government affairs director, noted that some of his colleagues elsewhere feel some towns take “great pride in regulating every single aspect of the appearance of every house built in their jurisdiction.”

The N. C. House is scheduled to vote on the legislation Tuesday. We hope that the bill, at least in its current form, comes to a swift end that day.