A proposal to greatly restrict the use of slab foundations for single-family dwellings in Oconee County has met with strong negative reaction from at least a segment of the local development community.
More than 50 people crowded the room for the Planning Commission meeting last Monday night to make clear their opposition, with at least that number, maybe more, crowded into the hallway outside.
Opponents said the proposed change reflects a misunderstanding of the benefits of slab foundations, would make it difficult to provide housing for an aging population in Oconee County, and is a taking of property rights.
No one other than county staff spoke in favor of the proposed change.
In the end, the Planning Commission voted to table the proposal until its next meeting on April 16.
A full-page, color advertisement on the back of the first section of the March 22 edition of The Oconee Enterprise continues the protest and urges people to show up again at that April 16 meeting to oppose the change.
The Oconee County Unified Development Code at present allows for construction of single-family and two-family dwellings on raised slab foundations but specifies that the “finished raised slab shall give the appearance of a ‘crawl space’ foundation.”
|Commission Members Caudill, Yarbrough, Laster|
The proposal before the Planning Commission would allow slab foundations only for “industrialized housing and manufactured homes” and in “age-restricted active adult dwellings (55 and older)” or in Continuing Care Retirement Communities.
The proposed new code states that “All new single-family detached homes shall be constructed with either crawl space or basement foundations.”
It does not specify what can be done with two-family dwellings.
The new code would include the requirement of a compaction certification from an engineer in the cases where a slab foundation is allowed and specifications on how crawl spaces are to be waterproofed, drained and sealed.
Presentation And Explanation
Sandy Weinel, assistant director of the Planning and Code Enforcement Department, introduced the proposed changes to the Planning Commission at the meeting on Monday.
“This is not something new,” Weinel said. “This amendment is just to codify” conditions routinely set by the Board of Commissioners, she added.
County Administrator Kirouac, following critical comments from the citizens, told the Planning Commission members that the staff was responding to “the policy given to us by the Board of Commissioners.”
“They have been consistently placing this as a condition of zoning on single-family detached requests,” Kirouac said.
Weinel and Kirouac said the document before the Planning Commission was being reviewed to make sure it was consistent with Americans with Disabilities Act regulations and would be modified once the legal review was complete.
Objections From Speakers
The turnout at the Planning Commission meeting was well orchestrated, with many of those present, including relatively young construction workers, wearing red T-shirts stating their opposition to the proposed change.
Nine individuals spoke against the proposed new ordinance, including the current President of the Athens Area Home Builders Association Stephanie Doerr and Past-President Jared York.
Doerr owns Make Mine Home interior design studio in Oconee County and is a contractor, and York is owner of J.W. York Homes of Athens.
Many of those who spoke argued that the changing demographics with an aging population make at-grade slab homes an essential part of the market.
Keith Anderson, director of construction at the Georgia Club, which straddles the Oconee County and Barrow County line, said within the industry, slab construction has taken over because of the aging population, which wants at-grade slab homes.
None of those who addressed the Planning Commission spoke in favor of the raised slabs allowed in the current ordinance.
Value An Issue
The value of at-grade slab homes versus homes built on other types of foundations also was a theme of that ran through many of the comments at the March 19 Planning Commission meeting.
“There is no difference in value between a slab and a crawl space,” said Matthew Snelling, owner of Warner Brothers Appraisal in Athens-Clarke County, who said he was speaking for Ryan Homes, a national homebuilder.
York from the Athens Area Home Builders Association said that he has driven around Oconee County and can say with confidence that the “predominant method of building has been slabs.”
Ken Beall, of Beall and Company, a landscape architecture company located at 3651 Mars Hill Road, said that the county seems to be saying that those with a slab house are not equal to those with a crawl-space house and “I think that is a serious political mistake.”
Beall said he said he was representing a number of builders and developers, but he did not identify those parties.
None of those who spoke talked about the differences in construction costs for at-grade slab versus crawl-space foundations, but a web site referenced in the ad in the Enterprise states that “Crawl space foundations cost nearly double the cost of a slab foundation.”
Problems With Crawl-Space Foundations
“Slab foundations are tried and true,” York told the Planning Commission members. “They have stood the test of time. They are the predominant foundation type in many markets.”
York said that the stipulation in the proposed ordinance that crawl spaces have to be waterproofed is misguided because there is no standard for such waterproofing and it cannot be done.
He also said that current construction is producing tighter, more energy efficient homes, and that these home are bringing bad air out of the crawl spaces into the homes and creating humidity problems and mold problems in those homes.
“If I had to choose for my family between a slab or a crawl space foundation, I would choose a slab foundation every time,” York said.
“This is the wrong time in our history in how we build houses to encourage crawl-space foundations over slabs,” York said.
Several of the speakers focused on the ordinance itself, which the county staff acknowledged had gone through several changes in the days running up to the Planning Commission meeting.
“What is before you tonight is ill prepared,” said Arnold S. “Beau” Kaye, who practices law in Watkinsville and said he was representing builders, including Southfork Homes of Statham.
“What really concerns me the most,” said Charles Upchurch from Coldwell Banker Upchurch Realty, “is that what you are doing here is the taking of private property rights.”
“If this is voted through, this is a taking away of freedom of (county residents) to build the foundation of their choice,” York said.
Local realtor Norm Grayson also criticized the county’s presentation of the ordinance and added that “I’d rather have a slab than a crawl space any day.”
Motion To Table
Near the end of the citizen comments, landscape architect Beall suggested that the Planning Commission table the proposed change in the ordinance, but Bill Yarbrough, chair of the Planning Commission, said “I don’t see where us tabling this is going to help a whole lot.”
Commission member Chuck Hunt said he disagreed with Yarbrough and proposed that the requested change be tabled until the Americans with Disabilities Act component of the ordinance was specified.
Commission member John Laster seconded the motion, but Yarbrough said “We’re not ready for a motion yet” and refused to allow a vote on the motion.
The Planning Commission only makes recommendations to the Board of Commissioners, which ultimately will have to decide on the proposed changes.
In the end, the Planning Commission voted 7-2 in favor of Hunt’s motion to table.
The advertisement in the Enterprise directs readers to a well-designed web page, myrightsoconee.com, telling readers to “Protect Your Rights.”
It also contains a full video of the Planning Commission meeting, which is available on Vimeo.
A person with a professional-grade camera sat in the front of the room of the Board of Commissioners Chamber during the Planning Commission meeting and made a recording of the meeting.
The web page contains many of the arguments in favor of slab construction versus crawl-space foundations raised in the Planning Commission meeting and directs readers to the March 22 edition of the Enterprise.
The paper has a lengthy story on the Planning Commission meeting in that edition on its Business page, B5.
Neither the web page nor the advertisement in the paper provides any contact information or indicates who is financing the campaign.
I attended the Planning Commission meeting, but Sarah Bell made the video recording below.
The Planning Commission also approved a change in the language in the Unified Development Code dealing with landscaping. That discussion begins at 19:35 in the video.
The discussion of the proposed change in the Unified Development Code regarding foundations begins at 34:06 in the video.