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North Carolina Land Use Planning (1-NC-a)

In North Carolina, land use planning is delegated to municipal and local governments. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-381 (1967). The governing body of a county or municipality has the authority to establish a local planning board. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-387 (1967).



Land Use Planning Process

1-NC-a.1 to 1-NC-a.2 — Does the Local Government Have a Land Use Plan?

The developer should determine if the local government has established a land use plan. If there is no land use plan the developer should still contact the local government and follow any other local rules and regulations.

1-NC-a.3 to 1-NC-a.4 — Does the Project Conform with the Local Land Use Plan?

The developer must determine whether the project conforms to the local land use plan. If the project is consistent with the land use plan, the developer may continue with the project. If the project is not consistent with the land use plan, the developer will need to follow the local government’s process for issuing a zoning variance or for amending the land use plan.

1-NC-a.5 — Petition for Special Use Permit (If Applicable)

The developer should contact the local planning board or the local government to determine if the project qualifies for a special use permit. “Special uses” are a particular category of uses in a zoning district that the local government will authorize if special standards and conditions are met. Unlike a zoning variance, special use permits do not require the developer to show hardship. Special Use Permits in North Carolina Zoning, Owens, (2007) at Page 1-2. If the project qualifies, the developer may petition the planning board or the city council for a special use permit. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-381(c) (1967). Most local governments in North Carolina use the following standards to evaluate special use permit applications:

  • The project will not materially endanger public health or safety;
  • The project meets all required conditions and specifications;
  • The project will not substantially injure the value of adjoining property or will be a public necessity; and
  • The project will be compatible with the comprehensive plan.

Special Use Permits in North Carolina Zoning, Owens, (2007) at Page 3.

1-NC-a.6 — Contact Local Government for Zoning Variance or Amendment to Land Use Plan

The developer should contact the local planning board or the local government to discuss the possibility of a zoning variance or an amendment to the local zoning plan if the project does not qualify for a special use permit. Zoning regulations may be amended or repealed at any time. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-385(a)(1) (1959). The developer must show practical difficulties or unnecessary hardship to qualify for a variance or amendment. Special Use Permits in North Carolina Zoning, Owens, (2007) at Page 2.

1-NC-a.7 — Petition for Zoning Variance or Amendment to Zoning Regulations

If the developer does not qualify for a special use permit the developer should petition for a zoning variance or amendment in the manner prescribed by the local government. To qualify for a zoning variance the developer must show:

  • An unnecessary hardship would result from a strict application of the ordinance;
  • The hardship results from conditions that are peculiar to the property;
  • The developer did not cause the hardship; and
  • The requested variance is consistent with the purpose and intent of the ordinance.

N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-388(d) (1947).

1-NC-a.8 to 1-NC-a.11 — Publish Notice of Hearing (If Applicable)

The local government must send notice of a hearing to any person or entity whose application or request is the subject of the hearing. The notice must be deposited in the mail at least 10 days, but not more than 25 days, prior to the date of the hearing. Additionally, the local government must publish notice at the site that is the subject of the hearing. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-388(a)(2) (1947). The local government makes the final determination on a zoning variance or amendment to land use plans.

1-NC-a.12 — Appeal Decision (Optional)

Any person with standing may appeal a decision to the board of adjustments. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-388(b)(1) (1947). Any decision from the board of adjustments may be appealed to the district court with jurisdiction. N.C. Gen. Stat. Ann. § 160A-388(e)(2) (1947).


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