The North Carolina House of Representatives has approved a bill that would prohibit local governments from using zoning ordinances to regulate building-design elements for single-family homes or duplexes. The current version of the bill — designated HB 150 — defines “building design elements” as exterior building color, materials, roof style, type or style of porches, location of architectural styling of windows and doors, number or types of rooms, and interior layout of rooms.
The law is needed, says North Carolina HBA staffer Lisa Martin, because burdensome local design ordinances have become increasing common in recent years. “The University of North Carolina School of Government looked at aesthetic controls on residential structures, and they found a huge number of them — something like 40 cases where local governments were restricting things like roof pitch or color or porch design,” she says.
Opponents of the bill maintain that preventing local governments from regulating the number of kitchens and baths in a home would allow multifamily dwellings to proliferate in neighborhoods now zoned for single-family homes or duplexes. The North Carolina chapter of the American Planning Association also claims, through its website, that HB 150 would hurt homeowners “who have made an investment based on an expectation that the community would continue protecting the character of the neighborhood through design standards.”
Martin finds such arguments unconvincing. “What they’re really talking about, in a lot of cases, is finding a way to use zoning to eliminate certain socioeconomic classes,” she says. “That’s why the North Carolina Housing Coalition and other affordable housing advocates want to see it pass.” Moreover, says Martin, design restrictions are simply unfair to consumers. “What if you don’t want the front porch required by zoning? What if the homeowner would rather spend that money on another bathroom instead?”
Although similar legislation proposed in 2009 and 2011 failed to become law, the current bill’s comfortable 98–17 margin of victory in the house suggests that things could be different this time. Once HB 150 has been reconciled with a companion bill now in the Senate, it will likely receive a final up-or-down vote later this spring. — J.V.