North Carolina Legal Landscapes

Tom authors North Carolina Legal Landscapes, a blog that has provided updates, commentary and education related to case law, statutory changes, land development, urban growth, the environment and the regulation of each by state and local governments since 2009. Here are his latest posts:

Recent Blog Posts

  • The True Cost of Zoning Litigation The week before Christmas 2020, I received word from the N.C. Supreme Court that it had denied discretionary review in a case out of Western North Carolina that my client had won in the N.C. Court of Appeals in 2018. We had prevailed at the trial court level in 2017 and before the county’s board of adjustment in 2016 after ten evenings of testimony that began in October of 2015. The appeal pertained to a planning director’s decision in June... More
  • Where do Solar Farms Belong? I was intrigued to learn that Cleveland County, N.C. is considering a zoning ordinance amendment to make solar farms allowable only in light and heavy industrial districts. It appears the ordinance amendment is being considered because solar farms – like practically all land use change proposals – bring out neighbors who do not want change.  And Cleveland County has had several large solar projects come through local approval. But changing the Table of Permitted Uses to allow utility-scale solar only in industrial... More
  • Senate Bill 704 — Careful Aim But Narrow Miss On May 4th the N.C. legislature passed Senate Bill 704 (Session Law 2020-3) to address a broad array of problems created by COVID-19. Bill section 4.31(a) amended the Emergency Management Act to add new section 166A-19-24 to authorize local governments to conduct remote meetings during declarations of emergency. Although the detailed procedural requirements create traps that could invalidate important decisions by an unwary board, the needed result for my clients is protection against lawsuits challenging virtual hearing zoning approvals in multiple jurisdictions. Unfortunately,... More
  • Returning to “Normal” Public Hearings – Doing it Right This past Thursday I appeared before the Asheboro City Council in a quasi-judicial hearing for a conditional use permit. The city’s new template for safe hearings is worth other governments’ consideration. No more than 10 people were allowed in chambers at one time. Only the mayor and four council members – enough for a quorum – were present, and they sat two seats apart. The remaining council members attended by phone. Before the meeting, staff and council members kept safe distances.... More
  • Moving to Virtual Public Hearings — Lessons Learned Kudos to the City of Greensboro for boldly keeping land use development projects moving through the approval pipeline despite local and State stay-at-home orders. Last week, while sitting in my living room, I “appeared” before the Greensboro Zoning Commission on behalf of a developer of a 193-acre industrial project. The following night I “appeared” before the City Council for a multi-family project. Greensboro’s learning curve for virtual hearings (not to mention my own) is steep, but it will be that much... More
  • Coronavirus and the Hospitalization of Participatory Government In younger days I traveled through African game lands in Uganda and explored an Amazon tributary in Bolivia. Both times I was confronted with the ironic fact that it’s easier to protect yourself against the large, loud, dangerous things you can see than the small things you cannot. If you’re going to be sidelined or hospitalized, chances are it will be from diseases carried by mosquitoes or the insidious bacteria in, well, everything you encounter. You’re personally vulnerable, and you know... More
  • “Words Matter” in Zoning Ordinance Interpretation This month the Court of Appeals published an opinion (Appalachian Materials v. Watauga County) that provides clear step-by-step instructions for interpreting a zoning ordinance. Is this opinion, following on the heels of Henion v. Watauga County boring? Not at all. It involves local political intrigue, a meddling “environmental” group, and friendly judicial jousting.   Plus, I’ll give you background information not found in the opinion. Facts and Narrative Appalachian Materials is the second case out of Watauga this year involving local attempts to prohibit... More
  • A New Must-Read Case on Quasi-Judicial Proceedings Last week the N.C. Court of Appeals published yet another opinion (PHG v. City of Asheville) that (1) further defines the template for deciding quasi-judicial zoning applications and (2) curtails the all-too-frequent seduction of board members to slip into legislative shoes while wearing a (quasi) judicial robe. Full disclosure: I argued PHG to the Court in September, and I’m eager to provide the color commentary of what actually happened at the board level and how the case evolved. I am not... More
  • A New Game Changer Zoning Case I published this post last January but my law partners – who won the case – asked me to take it down. Why? Because the other parties asked the N.C. Supreme Court to review the decision and one of the bases for higher review is a case’s significance. And since I had described this decision as one of the most significant land use decisions in years because it opened the door to completely changing how appointed and elected bodies issue special and conditional... More
  • Case Law Update – What Is “Standing” and Who Has It? “Standing” is suddenly a hot topic in zoning law, with three recent appellate opinions on the subject, one of which was a case of first impression decided by our Supreme Court. SIDEBAR: My colleague Kip Nelson and I have our own standing case in the N.C. Court of Appeals awaiting decision.  Accordingly – and since the ethics of blog writing are undefined in these contexts – I’ll only make general comments on standing and add a couple of innocuous points on... More