Published 12:00 am Wednesday, April 10, 2013

SPENCER — Spencer aldermen may request an exemption from a proposed state law that would prevent towns and cities from restricting the appearance of most residences.
Aldermen had a lengthy discussion Tuesday night about House Bill 150, which the N.C. House of Representatives passed 98-17 last month and is now in a senate committee. If it becomes law, the legislation would prevent local governments from enacting design or architectural rules for most single-family homes and duplexes.
“If we end up being governed by Raleigh, it’s not a good fit for Spencer,” Mayor Pro Tem Jim Gobbel said.
Appearance rules could still be applied in historic districts, and planned subdivisions could still adopt covenants governing the neighborhood.
Alderman Jeff Morris said he supports the bill, which he said was drafted in response to abuses by Cary and Chapel Hill in restricting what homeowners could do to their property.
Those cities are held up in seminars around the state as examples of good planning, Morris said, adding that he is concerned other communities will follow their lead.
In that case, legislators should be targeting Cary and Chapel Hill, not trying to pass a law that would have a negative impact on all municipalities in the state, Alderman Reid Walters said.
“Do a bill that is specific to those towns,” Walters said, calling the legislation an example of “narrow-mindedness” in the General Assembly.
“A handful of municipalities are abusing it, and the vast majority of them in the state are not,” he said.
Walters said he has talked to N.C. Rep. Harry Warren (R-Rowan) about the possibility of seeking an exemption for all N.C. towns with fewer than 5,000 residents. Spencer’s population is about 3,000.
Gobbel said he wants to pursue an exemption for Spencer, regardless.
“What are we going to do to protect our zoning and our aesthetic controls?” he said.
Morris urged the board to wait and see what happens with the legislation. Even if it passes, the town can ask for an exemption next year, he said.
Others urged faster action.

Eventually, aldermen agreed to ask town staff for more information about what’s currently in the bill and exemptions requested so far by Morrisville, Montreat and Biltmore Forest.
Morris said Spencer would have to show it has a unique reason to be exempt.
“We need to say more than just, ‘We don’t like having our hands tied,’” he said. “We have to show why we merit exclusion from something that’s going to affect the whole state.”
Mayor Jody Everhart said the board needs to study the issue further before deciding whether to request an exemption. Town Manager Larry Smith and Planning Director Price Wagoner said they would have details and a recommendation ready by the next board meeting, May 14.
“I hope we don’t miss the boat,” Gobbel said.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.