Davidson Design for Life, in collaboration with a Regional Advisory Commission, conducted an HIA of North Carolina State Senate Bill 731, a bill that would amend zoning legislation to make certain building design standards not applicable to low-density, single family residences. Low-density is defined as five units per acre or less. These building design elements include: building color; type or style of cladding material; style or materials of roof structures and porches; nonstructural ornamentation; location and architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors; and the number and types of rooms and interior layout of rooms.
The primary element of the bill considered in this HIA is garage door placement. The proposed legislation would allow garages that protrude from the front of the house, creating an auto-centric environment. The HIA found that a protruding garage and the resulting auto-centric environment could potentially reduce levels of physical activity by placing dominance on the vehicle and making it less appealing and safe for active transportation. The combination of fewer porches and a garage that serves as the main entrance to the house can reduce chance encounters with neighbors and harm the social cohesion of the neighborhood. A protruding garage may also limit natural surveillance of and from the house, reducing the crime prevention capabilities of homeowners and neighbors. The HIA made several recommendations including amending the legislation to remove any language about garage door placement and/or porch design.
The HIA also includes results from a local neighborhood survey, background information on zoning and design standards in North Carolina, and housing construction and vacancy rates. Appendices include a copy of the legislation, the neighborhood survey, scoping worksheets, and a policy brief given to legislators.
The HIA broadened the conversation surrounding the bill from one solely about municipal and state sovereignty to include concerns about the pedestrian realm, social cohesion, and the physical and mental health of North Carolina’s citizens. The HIA also increased awareness of the connections between the built environment and public health among Davidson’s Town Board and citizens, the leadership of surrounding communities, the North Carolina Chapter of the American Planning Association, and members of the North Carolina League of Municipalities. The Town of Davidson passed a local resolution, including health language, against SB 731. Ultimately the bill did not pass, but a revised version of the bill (HB 150/SB 139) was introduced in a subsequent session. This version of the bill removed any density criteria and stated that building design restrictions could not be applied to any one- or two-family dwellings as defined by the North Carolina Residential Code. A brief analysis of the revised legislation was conducted and this analysis and the findings of the original HIA were provided to the municipalities of Huntersville and Cornelius, the NC League of Municipalities, and the NC Chapter of the American Planning Association. The general issue of municipal authority surrounding neighborhood and housing design remains an active political topic in North Carolina.