Tuesday, December 04, 2007, 3:41 PM

COA Holds Property Owners Lack Standing To Challenge Subdivision Ordinance

In Marriott v. Chatham County, the COA held today that adjacent landowners lacked standing to challenge a subdivision ordinance that didn't set criteria for when an environmental impact assessment is required.

In Marriott, Chatham County had a subdivision ordinance that allowed the county to require an environmental impact assessment if the county thought it was necessary for "responsible review." The ordinance didn't set forth criteria for when that might be -- a requirement under the ordinance's enabling statute, N.C. Gen. Stat. sec. 113A-8. Plaintiffs, adjacent landowners, sued and sought to have the courts force the county to establish criteria for when developers must submit an environmental impact assessment.

The COA, in an opinion authored by Judge Steelman, agreed with the trial court that the landowners lacked standing. The COA invoked separation of powers and said that the court couldn't order the County Commissioners, i.e., the local legislature, to change the ordinance and set the criteria.

Indeed, all the court could do, the COA noted, was invalidate the ordinance to the extent it was noncompliant with its enabling statute. Doing so wouldn't redress the plaintiffs' injuries, i.e., wouldn't establish the criteria. Therefore, redressability, a necessary element of standing, was missing, and dismissal of the landowners' suit was proper.

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