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Lawyers and Planning

By Jeff Kleaveland
Posted Friday, January 16, 2004

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Regarding some of the recent posts about the Chatham lawyers and the planning process; it would be worthwhile for those engaged to take a look at the general statutes pertaining to land-use and planning law for the state of North Carolina. David Owen's books "Planning Legislation in North Carolina" and "Introduction to Zoning" published by UNC's Institute of Government is a good place to start.

Is the community of concerned citizens willing to hold these public representatives accountable and set up a legal defense fund to challenge questionable permits?

The county government is accountable to state law; if criticism is to be directed toward these players, it is far more effective to tie such criticism to the general statutes and gather evidence to this effect. The county should have transcripts, tapes and/or videos of all the meetings. If you want to cry "foul", better to have the player and the game to blow the whistle at.

Things to look out for are conflicts of interest, the appearance of conflict of interest, private meetings, illegal spot-zoning, procedural anomalies (i.e. inadequate, or inaccurate public notification for public hearings) and so forth. Learning the difference between a legislative and quasi-judicial hearing is also useful.

The rules by which the commissioners are supposed to act are on the books. If they issue a permit illegally, the permit can be appealed. Is the community of concerned citizens willing to hold these public representatives accountable and set up a legal defense fund to challenge questionable permits?

As far as the lawyer's recent edits of the draft ordinance, it would be advisable to look closely at such edits and try to understand the reasoning behind them and ask certain questions; Is the eliminated section a redundancy, covered by another section in the rest of the ordinance (enforcement for example)? Does the eliminated section give the government powers that can be use capriciously and are not tied to a policy document (i.e. designation of recreation space)? Does the policy create an administrative nightmare that the planning staff has to cope with?

I'm not saying that this will explain all of the edits, but it will likely explain a few. As for the remainder, if they should continue to smell bad after these questions are answered, these should be the ones to focus on.

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The author is a Planner/Zoning Development Specialist for the Town of Carrboro

 
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