Posted by: Patricia Salkin | October 19, 2008

North Carolina Appeals Court Finds Commission Lacked Authority to Adopt Modifications to Historic District Design Guidelines

In October 2003, two years after a meeting with the Chair of the Town’s Historic Preservation Commission, the Plaintiff submitted a sketch of a proposed building that arguably was in accordance with the guidelines then in effect.  Two months later, however, the Commission proposed a technical correction to the Historic District Design Guidelines, but published no notice of such to the public, and the Commission unanimously approved the new guideline. Seven months later, the Commission conducted a pre-application meeting to review the Plaintiff’s design, and although the Chair raised a concern that the design did not comply with the newly adopted guideline, the Plaintiff submitted the design in an application for a certificate of appropriateness. Following a hearing three months later, the Commission unanimously denied the application relying on the new guideline, and on appeal, the Board of Adjustment vacated the decision and ordered a new hearing.  Before the hearing took place, however, the Plaintiff filed a civil action against the Town and the Commission, seeking a declaratory judgment that the technical correction to the guidelines was void and unlawful. The trial court agreed with the Plaintiff and the Defendants appealed.


On appeal, the Court held that the Plaintiff is entitled to rely on the guidelines that were in effect at the time he applied for the certificate of appropriateness. Further, the Court determined that the Commission acted outside the scope of its statutory authority when it adopted the technical correction to the guidelines, since it imposed a more restrictive rule than what was allowed under its delegated authority.  Therefore, the Court concluded that the trial court was correct in ruling that the new guideline was unlawful and void as a matter of law.


Meares v. Town of Beaufort, 2008 WL 4468154 (N.C. App. 10/7/2008).


The opinion can be accessed at:

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