Land use regulation in North Carolina will be modernized for the first time in decades when the new Chapter 160D of the North Carolina General Statutes effectuates on July 1st. The new Chapter 160D consolidates the current statutes for development regulations (now 153A and 160A for counties and cities, respectively), and local governments across the state are underway updating its ordinances to conform with the new chapter. 

Those in the development community should be aware of a few important changes that could affect existing approvals or proposed zoning entitlements. 160D includes the notable following changes:

  • “Conditional Use Zoning” is replaced with “Conditional Zoning” – a minor grammatical but major procedural change.
    • “Conditional Use Zoning” is when a rezoning (legislative decision) and conditional use permit (quasi-judicial decision) were required in conjunction with one another to allow for zoning amendments with site-specific conditions.
    • A rezoning with conditions is now "Conditional Zoning", a solely legislative decision. Any property with a prior “Conditional Use Zoning” approval is now converted to a “Conditional Zoning”.
  • Zoning Amendment petitioner need to consent in writing to any conditions of approval in a Conditional Zoning decision.
    • This encourages crafting conditions of approval prior to review by decision-makers, and can help avoid crafting conditions of approval verbally 'on the fly' at a hearing.
  • Third party down-zoning petitions are prohibited.
    • The property owner’s written consent is required.
  • Distinguishes between Legislative Hearing and an Evidentiary Hearing types.
    • This distinction is important to crystallize procedural differences for application types that require different hearings e.g. Special Use Permit requires an Evidentiary Hearing; Rezoning requires a Legislative Hearing.
  • Specifically authorizes Minor Modifications to development approvals – these are modifications to development approvals that can be exempted or administratively approved.
    • What constitutes a Minor Modifications to a development approval must be defined and authorized by local regulation.
    • A change in permitted uses or the density of overall development may not be a minor modification to a Conditional Zoning or Special Use Permit. 
  • Clarifies that development approvals "run with the land", eliminating complications or confusions of change of property ownership, tenancy, or permittee.

The provisions of 160D will apply beginning on July 1st independent of whether a locality has updated its development ordinance. This is important for development applicants to have a deep understanding of their rights and the applicable processes in accordance with 160D in the case that the locality has not updated its ordinance. Many local governments are also using the 160D update process as an opportunity to substantially re-write its development ordinances beyond just conformance with 160D. Current development applicants should also be on the lookout for ordinance re-write efforts or text amendment applications that may be processed concurrently with their applications.

For additional information regarding the 160D changes, contact the Land Use & Zoning Legal Team of John Cooke and Mike Thelen.