Boards of Adjustment and Chinese Pigs

Two interesting things happened today. The first is obviously related to land use and the second is . . . obviously related to land use.

First, this morning the N.C. Senate Commerce Committee unanimously approved a “PCS” (proposed committee substitute) for the Board of Adjustment bill that unanimously passed the House 119-0. The changes are stylistic only (plus a correction of one very embarrassing noun/verb agreement error).

This bill was conceived and drafted this year through the Land Use Section of the NC Bar Association. Drafting was done in an open and transparent manner, and many, many folks throughout the state can find their thumb print in words and phrases in the bill draft.

[More about this bill and how it restructures and modernizes boards of adjustment in North Carolina in that vague “if/when” future of bill passage.]

Second, Smithfield Foods, with 10,000 N.C. employees, announced today that it has agreed to be acquired by a Chinese company for $4.7 billion. This acquisition will be the subject of many commentaries and editorials, but I dare say this will be the only one tying it to land use.

Several times a year I represent companies who need a zoning change before they can acquire land for development. In many cases, my clients are companies from out-of-state or are in-state but from out-of-town. The larger the company the more the rezoning can feel to a neighbor as though it’s an invasion by an outside force.

And because humans are, by nature, territorial, change wrought by outsiders tends to be feared or interpreted negatively. Similarly, our collective fear of the economic and military power growing in the East is amorphous until a company with several N.C. outposts comes under its ownership and control.

The Chinese haven’t invaded us. They have bought us. But acquisition and invasion are but two sides of the same coin, and the unsettling feeling it generates is no different than the feeling neighbors have when a development company from Ohio decides to buy Mr. MacGregor’s farm next door to build one of its subdivisions.

Unless you live next door to a proposed development, growth in one part of town is little different than growth anywhere, just as the Smithfield pigs will no doubt find that corn paid for with American dollars taste just the same as corn paid for by Chinese yuan.

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