In North Carolina, your right to protest unwanted development will soon be a relic of the past | News

In North Carolina, your right to protest unwanted development will soon be a relic of the past

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On Thursday, the Senate voted 39-10 in favor of a bill that repeals citizen protest petitions, and Gov. Pat McCrory has said he will sign the bill into law, according to a News and Observer report.

Citizens have just lost the only formal tool they had to try to keep unwanted development out of their neighborhoods and communities. How did we get here? Let’s recap.

In March, a group of bipartisan lawmakers in the House filed House Bill 201. One of these lawmakers was Rep. Darren Jackson, a Wake County Democrat and real estate attorney. Constituents bombarded Jackson with emails voicing their disappointment over his support of the bill. “What in the world as a Democrat were you thinking, Sir,” constituent Warren Wright wrote him. Jackson stood firm.

“If you live in Raleigh (where the protest petition is used from time to time), several rezoning requests have failed on 5-2 votes,” Jackson wrote in an email to a constituent. “This seems undemocratic to me.”

To constituents however, this claim seems untrue. Here is a list of rezoning cases with protest petitions, compiled by North Raleigh resident George Farthing using city data, between 2001 and 2014. There wasn't a single case where Raleigh's City Council voted 5-2 in favor of rezoning, which failed on account of a protest petition.  In all of these cases, the majorities voted against rezoning.

Year Case Council vote
2014 Z-1-14 8
to 0
2013 Z-4-13 8
to 0 
2013 Z-22-13 3
to 3
2013 Z-33-13  5 to 3 
2011 Z-2-11 7
to 0 
2010 Z-24-10 8  to 0 
2009 Z-27-09 7
to 0 
2008 Z-32-08 5
to 2 
2007 Z-24-07 7
to 0, 1 absent
2007 Z-39-07 8
to 0 
2006 Z-14-06  
2006 Z-9-06 8
to 0
2006 Z-11-06 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2006 Z-47-06  
2006 Z-30-06 8
to 0
2006 Z-27-06  
2005 Z-26-05 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2005 Z-43-05 8
to 0
2005 Z-15-05 8
to 0
2005 Z-23-05 6
to 2
2005 Z-20-05 8
to 0
2005 Z-37-05 8
to 0
2004 Z-68-04 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2004 Z-69-04 8
to 0
2004 Z-4-04 6
to 0 (2 absent)
2004 Z-23-04 8
to 0
2004 Z-24-04 8
to 0
2004 Z-34-04 8
to 0
2003 Z-7-03 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2003 Z-24-03 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2003 Z-25-03 6
to 1 (1 absent)
2003 Z-47-03 8
to 0 case not heard
2002 Z-5-02 8
to 0
2002 Z-15-02 8
to 0
2002 Z-20-02 8
to 0 for 2-year waiver
2002 Z-30-02 8
to 0
2002 Z-40-02 8
to 0
2002 Z-42-02 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2002 Z-50-02 8
to 0
2001 Z-10-01 8
to 0
2001 Z-16-01 6
to 2
2001 Z-17-01 8
to 0
2001 Z-27-01 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2001 Z-41-01 7
to 1
2001 Z-43-01 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2001 Z-44-01 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2001 Z-46-01 7
to 0 (1 absent)
2001 Z-53-01 8
to 0
2001 Z-64-01 4
to 4
2001 Z-73-01 11/20/01:
City Council and Planning Commission joint session; case carried over to 12/3
meeting. Raleigh website shows no outcome (but shows case as denied)
2001 Z-77-01 8 to 0

So anyway, the bill went on to a hearing in the House committee on Local Government shortly after it was filed.

Rep. Paul Luebke, D-Durham, offered an amendment preserving protest petitions that lowered the threshold of votes needed on a city or town council to pass a rezoning, and increased the threshold of neighbors who could sign on to a protest petition. Luebke says the majority of the committee members voted in favor of his amendment on a voice vote, but the committee chair—Rep. Carl Ford, R-Cabarrus, Rowan, called the vote the other way.

"He chose not to have the courtesy to have division," Luebke said. "He was clearly wrong. Other Republican leaders on the committee acknowledged that later. This was critical because his improper, erroneous calling of the vote would have changed the substance of the bill."

You can listen for yourself here.

The bill then passed the House in an 81-31 vote, and stalled in the Senate for a while. Meanwhile, influential supporters in the real estate development community—like the would-be North Raleigh Publix developer, Morgan Property Group out of Charlotte—continued to voice their support for the bill.
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The Senate finally took up House Bill 201, and voted to pass it overwhelmingly.

There may be a small silver lining: Sen. McKissick, D-Durham who voted against the bill, says he will work with municipalities that have protest petitions in their charters and want to keep that authority (although the protest petition's power would be substantially weakened).

And since this is ‘Murica, where we can still complain on our own terms, citizens wasted no time launching a petition to save the protest petition.

The Governor may be too busy enjoying a mani/pedi to notice. And lawmakers, of course, are on vacation after working all week to strip citizens’ rights away. But, you know, y'all have a happy Fourth and all. 

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