160D-108. Permit choice and vested rights.

(a) Findings. - The General Assembly recognizes that local government approval of development typically follows significant investment in site evaluation, planning, development costs, consultant fees, and related expenses. The General Assembly finds that it is necessary and desirable to provide for the establishment of certain vested rights in order to ensure reasonable certainty, stability, and fairness in the development regulation process, to secure the reasonable expectations of landowners, and to foster cooperation between the public and private sectors in land-use planning and development regulation. The provisions of this section and G.S. 160D-108.1 strike an appropriate balance between private expectations and the public interest.

(b) Permit Choice. - If a land development regulation is amended between the time a development permit application was submitted and a development permit decision is made or if a land development regulation is amended after a development permit decision has been challenged and found to be wrongfully denied or illegal, G.S. 143-755 applies.

(c) Vested Rights. - Amendments in land development regulations are not applicable or enforceable without the written consent of the owner with regard to any of the following:

(1) Buildings or uses of buildings or land for which a development permit application has been submitted and subsequently issued in accordance with G.S. 143-755.

(2) Subdivisions of land for which a development permit application authorizing the subdivision has been submitted and subsequently issued in accordance with G.S. 143-755.

(3) A site-specific vesting plan pursuant to G.S. 160D-108.1.

(4) A multi-phased development pursuant to subsection (f) of this section.

(5) A vested right established by the terms of a development agreement authorized by Article 10 of this Chapter.

The establishment of a vested right under any subdivision of this subsection does not preclude vesting under one or more other subdivisions of this subsection or vesting by application of common law principles. A vested right, once established as provided for in this section or by common law, precludes any action by a local government that would change, alter, impair, prevent, diminish, or otherwise delay the development or use of the property allowed by the applicable land development regulation or regulations, except where a change in State or federal law mandating local government enforcement occurs after the development application is submitted that has a fundamental and retroactive effect on the development or use.

(d) Duration of Vesting. - Upon issuance of a development permit, the statutory vesting granted by subsection (c) of this section for a development project is effective upon filing of the application in accordance with G.S. 143-755, for so long as the permit remains valid pursuant to law. Unless otherwise specified by this section or other statute, local development permits expire one year after issuance unless work authorized by the permit has substantially commenced. A local land development regulation may provide for a longer permit expiration period. For the purposes of this section, a permit is issued either in the ordinary course of business of the applicable governmental agency or by the applicable governmental agency as a court directive.

Except where a longer vesting period is provided by statute or land development regulation, the statutory vesting granted by this section, once established, expires for an uncompleted development project if development work is intentionally and voluntarily discontinued for a period of not less than 24 consecutive months, and the statutory vesting period granted by this section for a nonconforming use of property expires if the use is intentionally and voluntarily discontinued for a period of not less than 24 consecutive months. The 24-month discontinuance period is automatically tolled during the pendency of any board of adjustment proceeding or civil action in a State or federal trial or appellate court regarding the validity of a development permit, the use of the property, or the existence of the statutory vesting period granted by this section. The 24-month discontinuance period is also tolled during the pendency of any litigation involving the development project or property that is the subject of the vesting.

(e) Multiple Permits for Development Project. - Subject to subsection (d) of this section, where multiple local development permits are required to complete a development project, the development permit applicant may choose the version of each of the local land development regulations applicable to the project upon submittal of the application for the initial development permit. This provision is applicable only for those subsequent development permit applications filed within 18 months of the date following the approval of an initial permit. For purposes of the vesting protections of this subsection, an erosion and sedimentation control permit or a sign permit is not an initial development permit.

(f) Multi-Phased Development. - A multi-phased development is vested for the entire development with the land development regulations then in place at the time a site plan approval is granted for the initial phase of the multi-phased development. A right which has been vested as provided for in this subsection remains vested for a period of seven years from the time a site plan approval is granted for the initial phase of the multi-phased development.

(g) Continuing Review. - Following issuance of a development permit, a local government may make subsequent inspections and reviews to ensure compliance with the applicable land development regulations in effect at the time of the original application.

(h) Process to Claim Vested Right. - A person claiming a statutory or common law vested right may submit information to substantiate that claim to the zoning administrator or other officer designated by a land development regulation, who shall make an initial determination as to the existence of the vested right. The decision of the zoning administrator or officer may be appealed under G.S. 160D-405. On appeal, the existence of a vested right shall be reviewed de novo. In lieu of seeking such a determination or pursuing an appeal under G.S. 160D-405, a person claiming a vested right may bring an original civil action as provided by G.S. 160D-1403.1.

(i) Miscellaneous Provisions. - The vested rights granted by this section run with the land except for the use of land for outdoor advertising governed by G.S. 136-131.1 and G.S. 136-131.2 in which case the rights granted by this section run with the owner of a permit issued by the North Carolina Department of Transportation. Nothing in this section precludes judicial determination, based on common law principles or other statutory provisions, that a vested right exists in a particular case or that a compensable taking has occurred. Except as expressly provided in this section, nothing in this section shall be construed to alter the existing common law.

(j) [Definitions. -] As used in this section, the following definitions apply:

(1) Development. - As defined in G.S. 143-755(e)(1).

(2) Development permit. - As defined in G.S. 143-755(e)(2).

(3) Land development regulation. - As defined in G.S. 143-755(e)(3).

(4) Multi-phased development. - A development containing 25 acres or more that is both of the following:

a. Submitted for development permit approval to occur in more than one phase.

b. Subject to a master development plan with committed elements showing the type and intensity of use of each phase. (2019-111, s. 2.4; 2020-3, s. 4.33(a); 2020-25, ss. 5(a), 50(b), 51(a), (b), (d).)