NC Institute of Gov’t professor speaks on zoning

Professor David Owens
Professor David Owens speaking on zoning

Friday afternoon at 3:30 p.m., Professor David Owens of the North Carolina Institute of Government spoke on the subject of zoning before citizens of Henderson.

The forum was held at Vance County School’s Administrative Services Center and conducted by Eddie Ferguson, chairman of the Henderson-Vance Economic Partnership.

Owens began with a brief history of zoning, stating that it is a 20th century invention originating in New York City. In order to have control of the city’s growth, a plan was devised and zoning was adopted in 1916. That opened the door for other cities to regulate their growth. As an example, Owens used his hometown of Elizabeth City. He said the newspaper headline on the day in 1923, when zoning was adopted, was an announcement that the first motion picture was coming to town. The tiny zoning article was at the bottom of the page.

Despite the fact that zoning is a relatively modern means of land-management, Owens reminded the audience that “people have always had some degree of regulation regarding land use”. In 1959, all North Carolina counties were given the authority to establish zoning. Since then, there have been 55 counties fully zoned and 24 partially zoned. Additionally, 93% of the cities with a population of 1,000 or more are zoned.

Owens said the first step in setting up realistic zoning is doing a detailed plan addressing all the needs of the county. He stressed the importance of long term planning and projections, representing the needs of the people and land use. He pointed out that most businesses want to invest in areas that are zoned because it “gives a sense of predictability to investors, landowners and businesses.” In one county, an electronics firm employing 150 people opened up and operated a few months until a rock quarry started up a half mile away. This is the type of incompatible business locations that occur without planning how the land will be managed.

“Whether you have zoning or not is up to the good judgment of the elected officials,” Owens said. Although a county may be zoned, farms are not subject to agricultural zoning. Counties cannot impose restrictions on the cities unless the city council requests such action.

Owens encouraged planners to figure out current problems, focus on those, and anticipate future changes. He said that in zoned counties there must be a Board of Adjustment to determine appeals on a case by case basis.