Carrboro aldermen vote to amend town charter

By Kelly Esposito
Spanish Language Coverage Team

A proposed amendment to the Carrboro charter would prohibit property deeds and homeowners association covenants from restricting the use of clotheslines and other energy-saving devices.

The Board of Aldermen approved two amendments to the Town’s charter in its Feb. 17 meeting. The amendments must now be presented to the N.C. General Assembly. Only the state legislature has the power to alter town charters.

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Carrboro resident and Camellia Forest Nursery employee Rachel Byrne, 24, takes down a sheet from the clothesline in her backyard. “I like the process of hanging things on the clothesline,” Byrne said. “Plus it saves energy.” A proposed amendment to the Carrboro charter would prohibit property deeds and homeowners’ association covenants from restricting the use of clotheslines and other energy-saving devices.
Staff photo by Kelly Esposito

One of the amendments would authorize the board to create ordinances that could supersede deed restrictions or homeowners association covenants if the deeds or covenants prohibited the implementation of sustainability features. These features include clotheslines, solar panels and rain barrels. It passed 5-2, with board members Joal Hall Broun and Randee Haven-O’Donnell dissenting.

The amendment drew public comment from residents who were concerned about the broad authority it would provide.

Carrboro resident Richard Anstine, who spoke at the meeting, said that he has no problem with saving energy and going green, but the language of the proposed amendment is alarming.

“There are no limitations to this,” he said. “It’s just wide open.”

Anstine is concerned with the possible voiding of deed restrictions and homeowners association covenants, which he said are put in place primarily to protect property values.

“They are the thing that keeps people from painting polka dots all over their house or building a garage in their front yard,” he said.

Carrboro resident Robert Kirschner also spoke at the meeting. He said that he thinks town officials are overstepping their bounds with the proposal, and he was in favor of continuing the public hearing on a later date so the issue could be explored further and more people could have the opportunity to comment.

“This is far more complicated than it appears,” Kirschner said. “I was asking them to pause, which they did not do.”

Problems with publicity

Kirschner’s request that the Aldermen wait before voting to send the amendment to the state legislature may be especially significant because it is unclear how many people knew about the initial hearing.

Public hearings are usually scheduled for the fourth Tuesday of each month, but the board can hear public comments at the other types of meetings (regular meetings and work sessions) if specified on the agenda.

Feb. 17 was the third Tuesday of the month, which is usually reserved for regular board meetings. The charter amendment proposal was the only agenda item specified as a public hearing in the meeting.

Roy Williford, Carrboro’s planning director, said town ordinances have specific rules about the publicity of public hearings.

“It’s required in the ordinance to be published in the newspaper 10 days prior,” Williford said.

But Anstine and Kirschner said they only heard about the hearing from an e-mail they received from the Town on Feb. 13.

“The only reason I found out is because I got an e-mail from the city the Friday before,” said Anstine. “I did not hear about it from anything else, which really amazes me.”

Anstine said he did not see the actual text of the amendments until Feb. 16, the day before the meeting, and he only saw them then because he specifically requested them. He said shortly after the town e-mailed him the document, it was sent through the listserv too. But Anstine is not satisfied with the town’s efforts to get the word out.

“I didn’t think that was adequate time at all,” Anstine said. “It’s a major change. You don’t just give two days notice.”

Anstine said he searched the town’s Web site for mention of the issue in previous agendas and minutes, in case he had missed it, but he found nothing.

Kirschner also thought the publicity of the hearing was inadequate.

“I don’t believe they gave sufficient notice,” Kirschner said. “Because I do generally try to pay attention.”

Moving forward

It is now up to the state legislature to decide if the amendments will be added to Carrboro’s charter.

Anstine does not think the sustainability amendment will pass.

“I don’t think it will get through,” he said. “It is not written effectively at all.”

The other proposed amendment would add sexual orientation, gender identification and gender expression to the criteria by which the board can prohibit housing discrimination. It drew no public discussion at the board meeting and passed unanimously.

Alderman Jacquie Gist said at the meeting that it was “really interesting and really neat” that the sustainability amendment drew public comment while the housing discrimination one did not.

“I think that really says something about how we have changed and evolved as a community over the past 20 years,” she said.

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