The North Carolina Senate is considering a bill that could wipe out architectural standards set for subdivisions, which could have far reaching consequences for communities across the state.
In short, Senate Bill 731 – if passed – could keep subdivisions from requiring developers to make new homes architecturally consistent with the others in the neighborhood.
“It’s taking away the rights of communities to have aesthetic and design standards for single-family to four-family units,” Jack Simoneau, Huntersville’s planning director said on Tuesday, May 17.
The legislation would allow builders to ignore standards of exterior building color, type of style or exterior cladding material, style of materials of roof structures or porches, exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation, location or architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors, the number and types of rooms and interior layout of rooms.
Huntersville has had such standards on its books since 1996.
“To my knowledge, if this thing is successful, I am unaware of any state in the country that is taking away the rights of local governments to have an influence on the architecture,” Simoneau said.
Sen. Daniel Clodfelter, a Democrat representing Mecklenburg County and the bill’s primary sponsor, did not return a call seeking comment.
The reason for the legislation, some have speculated, is to allow builders who take over abandoned or unused lots without having to build more expensive homes similar to those in a neighborhood. Many of those may have unsold homes that look similar.
Simoneau said he doesn’t know the exact reason for the bill, but he thinks that it’s coming in large part because the building industry doesn’t want to be regulated.
“On the other side of the coin, if the codes are done right, they give a lot of flexibility to the designers,” Simoneau said. “I’m sure everyone would like to have that flexibility on how big the lots could be and what kind of land uses they can have there.”
“In short, we don’t like it. That’s why we have architectural standards – to have different mixes in different neighborhoods,” said Anthony Roberts, the town manager for Cornelius. “I think this bill definitely has the potential to drive home values down.”
With a glut of half-finished neighborhoods or communities with lots for sale, that fear could be realized throughout Lake Norman’s communities. The only areas unaffected are those listed on the National Register of Historic Places and homes individually designated local, state or national historic landmarks.
“There’s real concern from existing homeowners about what’s going to be built in their community,” Simoneau said. “We’re getting calls from neighborhoods concerned about what’s getting built and what impact that will have on their investments.”
Generally speaking, the prices of homes have already dropped and are at their lowest rates in years.
Simoneau said, however, restrictive covenants, which are legal obligations set by the seller requiring the buyer maintain the home in a certain way, will not be affected by Senate bill 731. These include mandates like keeping homebuyers from removing historically important things or intentionally damaging the property’s value.
The bill passed its second reading Tuesday, May 17, and Simoneau thinks if passed, local subdivisions could feel it almost immediately.
“There are virtually no communities – under this law – that would be exempt from this,” Simoneau said. “That is just unbelievable in my mind that the state government would step in and mandate to a local government what they can do in their community.”