- Associated Press - Wednesday, July 15, 2015

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A bill eliminating a formal track for North Carolina homeowners to protest development in their communities passed the General Assembly on Wednesday and is headed to the governor, who will likely approve it.

The House voted 82-28 in favor of eliminating protest petitions, which residents can sign to increase the standard needed for city councils to approve zoning changes.

Under current law, if 20 percent of community members or 5 percent of owners inside a 100-foot buffer around a proposed development sign the petition, the city council must approve any zoning changes to the property by a three-quarters majority.

Democrats and legislators from larger cities such as Raleigh and Durham opposed ending the petitions, which have been in place for more than 90 years. Members of both houses failed to pass compromise amendments raising the required number of petitioners and lowering voting threshold for councils, eliciting vocal opposition to the bill before it passed.

Supporters of the bill accuse protest petitions of being undemocratic and allowing a small number of residents to block development. Concerned residents, they argue, still have access to petition city council members on their own.

Rep. Stephen Ross, R-Alamance, said he saw a developer in his county go bankrupt after being held up for years by a protest petition. The project is now underway, Ross said, but it has taken 11 years to begin construction.

“That’s what a protest petition can do,” Ross said. “This is wrong.”

The law also includes a section that would require written statements submitted by property owners two days before a vote be delivered to the city council.

The North Carolina League of Municipalities supports compromise proposals that leave intact the protest petitions. Scott Mooneyham, a spokesman for the league, said the issue has lost relevancy because protest petitions are becoming less common and rarely succeed in blocking development.

Between November 2014 and April 2015, 16 protest petitions were filed in Charlotte, and nine received enough votes to require a supermajority in council. One of those petitions was withdrawn before the council voted.

“Have we really crippled development in our areas? I don’t think so,” said Rep. Marilyn Avila, R-Wake, who said she supported a compromise.

Republican Gov. Pat McCrory, a former mayor of Charlotte, indicated earlier this month that he supports ending protest petitions.

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