Matthews, Mint Hill protest N.C. Senate Bill 731

Officials: Measure would strip towns of local control over housing standards

by Kara Lopp

Officials in Matthews and Mint Hill are crying foul over a pending state bill that would reduce the amount of local control over how buildings look and what they’re made of.

Senate Bill 731, dubbed Zoning/Design and Aesthetic Controls, passed handily in the N.C. Senate May 17 with a 38-10 vote. Two senators had excused absences and did not vote. Among those “aye” votes were Senators Bob Rucho of Matthews and Tommy Tucker, who represents part of Mint Hill and Union County. The bill is currently pending in the N.C. House of Representatives.

Mint Hill commissioners sent an e-mail to local legislators the day before the Senate vote and are preparing to do so again before the House vote. Matthews has contacted local legislators, too. Both towns say they’re gravely concerned about the bill because it gives developers control to build practically anything using almost any materials they want.

Both towns have building/design standards built into their zoning ordinances and Matthews, in fact, is in the process of updating those codes.

“It does greatly affect our town,” Mint Hill Commissioner Tina Ross said. Ross alerted the Mint Hill board to the issue and has pushed for action. If the bill passes, “we would not have the ability to designate the materials used. We have tried very hard to maintain quality housing standards and this would take that away.”

According to Mint Hill’s e-mail in opposition to the bill, “poor quality construction and materials” during the housing boom led the town to adopt its standards responding to the “outcry” from residents to do so. In some cases, the e-mail states, vinyl siding became warped within months of construction.

“We are confident our citizens (voters and taxpayers) are also opposed to” SB 731, the e-mail reads. “During the housing boom, local governments quickly became more aware of the many developers and building contractors who do not necessarily have the community’s long-term interest at heart, but seem only interested in getting a quick return on their money. That resulted in the use of substandard building materials and poor construction which led to the fast deterioration of newly constructed homes.”

In the process of updating its Unified Development Ordinance — a document which sets design and building requirements for the town – Matthews is “very concerned about this bill” Town Manager Hazen Blodgett said this week.

“We think the Town of Matthews has done a good job historically of regulating development to make sure we get quality development,” he said. The bill “would limit what will be required” of builders.

The proposal is just one more way the state legislature is trying to take away local control, Blodgett said.

“It seems to me that this session of the (N.C.) General Assembly they have really pushed down regulations on local governments that, I think, if the federal government did it to them then it would be a states’ rights issue,” he said. “It seems to me that they have no qualms about regulating towns’ authority. Our argument is our elected officials are closer to the populace.”

As an architect and a Matthews Town Commissioner, John Urban understands both sides of the issue. But he sides with municipalities.

“I can see both sides of the fence on in this, but (according to the bill) a builder can build anything they want,” he said. “Matthews has high regard of improving the overall aesthetic value. I don’t want things to be homogenous, but I think you have to have quality of materials. I think people are realizing that design has value.”

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