The Transylvania Times -

Brevard Opposes Housing Bill


Last updated 4/26/2021 at 4:04pm

Brevard City Council has unanimously approved a resolution opposing a bill in the N.C. General Assembly it says limits the city’s authority over zoning and allows for unrestricted development in muni-cipalities.

Those who back Senate Bill 349 and its sister bill in the House, 401, including one of its primary sponsors, N.C. Sen. Chuck Edwards, who represents Transyl-vania County in District 48, say government regulations are hurting the housing supply.

The bill, filed March 25, is called “An Act to Provide Reforms to Local Government Zoning Authority to Increase Housing Opportunities and to Make Various Changes and Clarifications to the Zoning Statutes.”

“We are at a crises point in North Carolina, where government restrictions have choked the housing supply,” Edwards said of the bill. “Fewer homes are being built and prices are escalating to the point where home ownership is getting out of the reach of most of our citizens. I’ve seen only a scant number of solutions put forth. S349 will help get government out of the way, allow the free market to prevail, and will give property owners more choices.”

The North Carolina League of Municipalities (NCLM) “strongly opposes” the bill and is encouraging cities to express opposition to state lawmakers.

During the council’s meeting last week, former City Attorney Michael Pratt said the NCLM recommended council pass the resolution and publish it in media outlets and send it to all members of the General Assembly, including the bill’s sponsors.

City Councilwoman Maureen Copelof said she and Councilman Gary Daniel were researching affordable housing when they discovered the bill, which she said caused concern.

“This bill radically changes who has the authority to make various decisions, and what it does is it takes away authority from the municipalities and counties in terms of zoning,” Copelof said. “It makes statewide decisions that would be mandated, and would actually take away our (council’s) authority to be able to tailor some of the zoning decisions to our community.”

The bill, Copelof said, would “hamper a large amount of the ability of municipalities to put some regulations on short-term rentals,” pre-empting local zoning authorities “by putting in place a statewide zoning scheme that allows duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and townhomes in every zone that also has single-family zoning.”

Copelof said this means council would have to allow for the building of these types of housing in residential single-family zoning districts without input from the city and citizens.

“This should be a local decision based on community input and what we think in total as elected officials as what’s best for the community,” Copelof said.

The proposed bill would mandate a “one-size fits all” for every community, Copelof added.

Though developers must still comply with the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO) as regulated by the City Planning Board and staff, there are allowances in the bill to which council would have to agree, such as a stipulation that council must allow for an accessory dwelling (used for short-term rentals) in every single-family zoned area, a specification which Copelof reiterated subtracts the decision making process from local authority.

Asheville has attempted to limit short-term rentals by creating an ordinance that necessitates that the owner must be living in the main dwelling to rent out a short-term rental, or accessory dwelling, an ordinance that Copelof said helps regulate the amount of short-term rentals.

The bill would remove that kind of stipulation, allowing for short-term renters to rent both an accessory unit, as well as the main dwelling, with the owners absent, which itself would allow for developers to create an excess of units throughout neighborhoods to allow for renting.

According to Copelof in a later email, local governments should regulate short-term rentals so that there isn’t a deficit in long-term rentals for people to live and work in the community.

Houses get converted to short-term rentals because one can make more money renting to visitors, which leads to the shortage, increasing both housing and rental prices, Copelof said.

Short-term rentals also change neighborhood’s character, Copelof said, creating an environment not of community but of people just passing through, which reduces the community sense of a neighborhood.

Though the city has an ordinance on short-term rentals, it does little in enforcing it, Copelof said, adding that she believes the city “needs to re-evaluate and strengthen our ordinance.”

The bill allows for a state dictation that overrides decisions that should be made locally, Copelof said.

Also, despite the title referencing “affordable housing,” she said there is no section in the bill’s wording requiring developments to charge rents no more than 30 percent of one’s income, which includes total housing cost, such as utilities, taxes and insurance, which is how affordable housing is defined.

In the meeting, Pratt said the bill is backed by the N.C. Home Builder’s Association.

“It appears to me that the Homebuilders Association is looking at very short-term riches that might come if they can build without having to comply with zoning ordinances or restrictions,” Pratt said. “They can build what they want. They can turn this situation into short-term riches, but I think even they are going to be hurt in the end.”

Pratt called the bill “an attack under the guise of increasing housing opportunities” with a name that “has absolutely nothing to do with low-income housing.”

He added the bill also takes away the city’s right to consider public safety based on roadway conditions if there’s been a state traffic study.

“I think that’s pretty horrendous,” Pratt said.

The bill also states if there is a lawsuit between the city and a plaintiff and the city loses, it has to pay the legal fees of the plaintiff, but not vice versa, said Daniel.

Pratt called that an “unusual provision” that is intended to have a “chilling effect to keep cities from contesting matters.”

“Quite frankly, I don’t know any other reason why it would be there,” Pratt said.


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