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  • Can the City Tell Me What My New House Has to Look Like?

    Authored by: on Monday, August 3rd, 2015

    A  fast-growing suburban town would like to encourage walkable mixed use neighborhoods. The planning board has proposed adding a new zoning district that would allow higher residential densities provided certain standards are met. The proposed standards include requirements for sidewalks, front porches, and that garage entrances be accessed only from the rear of the property.

    A second town is concerned that most of the new subdivisions built in town in the past few years have included only entry-level housing. The newly adopted comprehensive plan encourages all new large residential developments to provide a full range of housing affordability in order to provide adequate housing opportunities for everyone. A council member now urges action to secure a greater variety of housing, with a particular aim of encouraging more mid- and high-end housing. She has proposed amending the town’s low density residential zoning district to require that all new houses in that district have masonry siding. She suggests an alternative may be to prohibit use of vinyl siding in this zoning district.

    A small resort town wants to preserve its distinctive architectural character. To that end, a local civic group has asked the town council to consider requiring that new houses constructed in existing neighborhoods generally match the scale, colors, and architectural style of existing neighboring homes. The group has also asked that residential structures offered for weekly rental be limited to no more than six bedrooms. The group contends that very large residences offered for short-term rental have land use impacts more akin to a small motel than a residence, so this regulation is needed in order to minimize problems with noise, traffic, and parking and to preserve the existing residential character of their neighborhoods.

    Do North Carolina cities and counties have the authority to adopt regulations like these proposals?

    Newly enacted legislation specifies that North Carolina and local governments do not have the authority to adopt most of these proposed regulations. Read more »

  • When a Local Government Purchases Property at a Tax Foreclosure (Part II)

    Authored by: on Thursday, July 30th, 2015

    Tax fans, I know you’ve been eagerly anticipating the sequel to my last post, which ended in a thrilling cliff-hanger: What must we do with sale proceeds and outstanding taxes after a local government sells property it purchased at a tax foreclosure sale?

    Your wait is over! Read on to learn the stunning conclusion . . . Read more »

  • Trial Court Review of Closed Session Minutes

    Authored by: on Tuesday, July 28th, 2015

    A North Carolina local school board renews its contract with a superintendent for an additional four years. Seven months later, the board meets in closed session to discuss a personnel matter. Immediately after the closed session, the superintendent resigns and the board approves a $200,000 severance payment. The newspaper requests a copy of the closed session minutes. The board responds that the minutes are confidential personnel records and their release would frustrate the purpose of the closed session. The newspaper files a lawsuit to compel the release of unredacted minutes relating to the superintendent’s employment. The board files a motion to dismiss the lawsuit arguing that the records are not subject to disclosure, so the complaint fails to state a claim for which relief can be granted.

    Must the trial court take the board’s word for it that the minutes are entirely confidential, and grant the motion to dismiss? Or should the trial court review the records to determine whether records may lawfully be withheld? The North Carolina Court of Appeals has held that the trial court must review the records. Read more »

  • Public Health Law Update: Back-to-School Edition

    Authored by: on Friday, July 24th, 2015

    For many families in North Carolina, the arrival of August means it’s time to start preparing to send children back to school. In addition to shopping for school supplies and new sneakers, it’s a good time to make sure children’s school health needs are in order. This post reviews some new immunization requirements that took effect on July 1, and provides a refresher and update on kindergarten health assessments, rescue medications in schools, and that ever-present childhood nuisance – head lice. Read more »

  • King v. Burwell: The U.S. Supreme Court Saves the ACA’s Employer Mandate

    Authored by: on Wednesday, July 22nd, 2015

    In June 2015, the U.S. Supreme Court, in King v. Burwell, upheld the lawfulness of the way the Affordable Care Act works in North Carolina and the 33 other states where the federal government, rather than the state, runs the health insurance exchanges. As a result, the ACA’s employer mandate is still effective. That means that employers must continue to keep track of those employees who qualified for and were offered health insurance, and those who did not, in order to comply with the ACA’s stringent reporting requirements — which will be due next winter for the 2015 calendar year. For those of you interested in the way in which the Court reached its decision, read on. For those who are more concerned with the bottom line of the decision – keep on counting! That’s the lesson of the decision. Read more »

  • Sign Litigation: A Brief Analysis of Reed v. Town of Gilbert

    Authored by: on Tuesday, July 21st, 2015

    Temporary yard signs are springing up all around town. Town council wants to reduce the clutter, but also wants to respect the free speech rights of the community. Council is considering new rules that will allow campaign signs during election season, event signs within a day of the event, and ideological signs anytime. It seems like a reasonable balance—allowing the signs but limiting them to a relevant time-frame. Can the town’s regulations distinguish among signs this way?

    A recent U.S. Supreme Court decision says no. Such distinctions are unconstitutional content-based regulation of speech.

    To be clear, every sign ordinance distinguishes among signs. Ordinances commonly distinguish between locations (commercial property, residential property, public property, etc.), between types of signs (free-standing, wall signs, electronic signs, etc.), and between messages on the signs (commercial, safety, political, etc.). Reasonable distinctions concerning location and types of signs remain permissible.

    The Reed decision, though, clearly invalidated some distinctions based on the message content of signs, and it will require adjustments to many local ordinances and some state statutes. The decision, with its four separate concurring opinions, also left open several legal questions.

    This blog considers the decision of Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. __ (2015), and its impact on local sign ordinances. Read more »

  • They’re Finally Here: The U.S. Department of Labor’s Proposed New FLSA Regulations

    Authored by: on Monday, July 20th, 2015

    Here’s something to shake you out of a nice summer nap: it is virtually certain that beginning in 2016, local governments will have to pay time-and-one-half overtime premium pay to some employees who now earn a straight salary regardless of how many extra hours they work. If a proposed new federal rule goes into effect – as it likely will – nobody paid less than $50,440 will be exempt from the overtime requirement of the federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). The city manager, the human resources director, the solid waste director and the chief sheriff’s deputy are all now exempt because of the nature of their duties. You pay them a salary and you don’t owe them overtime pay when they work more than 40 hours. But if any of those positions make less than $50,440 per year, that is about to change. Read more »