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Despite opposition, NC senator proposes zoning changes to create more affordable housing

FLETCHER, N.C. (WLOS) — A North Carolina senator is pushing for changes to property zoning statewide in the hopes of creating more -- and cheaper -- housing.

Sen. Chuck Edwards (R-District 48), who represents Henderson, Buncombe and Transylvania counties, is one of the primary sponsors of Senate Bill 349, titled "Increase Housing Opportunities." The bill would essentially eliminate single-family zoning and require local governments to allow duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in all residential districts, including those zoned for single-family homes.

Edwards pointed to a 2019 New York Times analysis, which found that about 75% of American land is zoned for single-family homes. With high single-family home prices, Edwards said it's becoming difficult for many people to find and afford housing.

"We have a serious problem in North Carolina. There's a housing crisis. Folks cannot find places to live and when they do, they're extremely expensive," Edwards said.

The idea behind SB349 is to increase housing supply so soaring home prices will go down, Edward explained.

"It would be a free market solution, because there are property owners and developers out there right now that are willing and ready to help us solve the problem. They simply want to be able to build places for folks to live," Edwards said.

Edwards said local governments are "getting in the way" with their zoning restrictions.

But many local leaders think the bill is stepping on their toes by interfering with their local decision-making powers and the ability of residents to give public input. The town of Fletcher, along with the town of Mills River and village of Flat Rock, are just a few of the many municipalities that have passed resolutions against the bill.

Edwards said property owners should have autonomy over their own land.

"I think that it's important that a property owner be able to decide what goes on their property and how they use their property. This is the time for folks to decide, do they stand for property owners' rights or do they stand for government allowing the dictation of how someone should use their property," Edwards said.

The bill would also require local governments to allow an accessory dwelling unit on a lot occupied by a detached single-family home. In addition, it would restrict conditional zoning. Edwards said many local governments have been misusing that type of zoning. But that's also what allows local leaders to require developers to address residents' concerns with their development proposals, by doing things like limiting construction noise and building sidewalks.

SB349 failed to meet the deadline to pass out of the Senate Chamber, but Edwards said the bill is far from dead.

"There are a lot of different ways to move legislation here in Raleigh. I'm confident we're going to get some, if not all, the provisions of Senate Bill 349 passed this legislative session," he said.