Editorial: No good reason for bill

March 21, 2014 

Legislators may be asked again this year to consider a new law that would prohibit towns and counties from enforcing some key land use rules.

House Bill 150 passed the House of Representatives last year, but went nowhere in the Senate before elected leaders brought the legislative session to an end.

The bill, if passed, would strip local governments from issuing rules on appearance and design for structures built in their jurisdiction.

That means the convenience store out near the highway at the entrance to town, can paint its walls pick, green and any other garish color it wishes. That means, builders can construct homes in which the garage door covers nearly all the front space of a home. It means those homes could be covered in polka dots if that’s what the homeowner wants to do.

Zoning and land use regulations can get overbearing at times and we get that. We understand that rules add to the cost of doing business for home builders who want to maximize profit. But we also know that those rules are designed to protect those who already live in a neighborhood. Few people would argue that it is wise to build a hog farm right next to a residential subvdivision. Land use rules reduce the opportunities for such disparate neighbors. They also prevent neighborhoods from becoming eyesores and forcing down the value of neighboring properties.

The General Assembly – in the House at least – don’t seem to worried that taxpayers would lose important protections under the language in this bill.

They also seem not to understand that local government impacts people’s lives much more significantly that at the state government level. And, it is at the local level where ordinary residents are most likely to be heard and considered when they have a concern.

And legislators also seem to have forgotten that communities can be as different as night and day. Consider, right here in Wake County, the sensibilities of people in say, Cary and Wendell.

The rules that work in Cary might not be the best option for Wendell. What works in Winston-Salem may not work in Wilmington.

But that’s OK, legislators seem to be saying. Builders won’t go off the deep end and do really weird stuff. And while it’s true that builders aren’t likely to construct too many polka-dotted houses, they are likely to construct as many homes as possible in the cheapest way possible. If that means slinging a garage door across the front of the house, then that’s what they going to do. Never mind that buyers ultimately lose in a situation like that when choices are limited and options minimized.

Legislators are listening to the wrong people when they bow down, once again, to the home builders instead of listening to the people who lead the towns, cities and counties that make up this state.

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