Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives, say they were asked to join as sponsors of House Bill 302, which would greatly restrict local regulation of one and two-family housing, but they declined.
The two said in a joint statement that “before supporting this bill, we want to fully understand the impact it may have” and that they will follow the bill “as it moves through the committee process.” Both are Republicans.
Spencer Frye, who represents Clarke County and is one of the bill’s six sponsors, said that the proposed legislation “is a consumer protection bill” that helps guarantee the rights of consumers “to low cost housing.”
Frye, who is one of two Democratic sponsors of the bill, said “At the end of the day, this is a Republican bill” and “Being on the bill gives me an opportunity to help be part of the discussions if we need to change it.”
The bill, which is opposed by the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, is before the 24-member Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, chaired by Tom McCall of Elberton, one of the bill’s Republican sponsors.
House Majority Leader Jon Burns from Newington, north of Savannah, is another of the bill’s sponsors and also is a member of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee.
Impact On Oconee
The bill’s first sponsor is Vance Smith, a Republican from north of Columbus.
Smith owns and operates Vance Smith Contracting and Consulting, according to his biography on the General Assembly website. Smith’s company provides business development services and consulting to Pond, a major engineering and contracting company based in Atlanta.
Oconee County has been in conflict with the housing industry over the Board of Commissioners’ decision in June of 2018 to prohibit slab foundations on most single-family housing in the county.
The Board of Commissioners frequently specify various design features of home construction as part of zoning.
The bill as currently written would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances regulating building design for one and two-family housing and specifically prohibits regulation of the types of foundation structures that are allowed under state minimum standard codes. Slab foundations are allowed by the state code.
Daniell On HB 302
Oconee Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told me in an email message late this (Monday) evening that he opposes House Bill 302.
The bill will be “detrimental to communities” attempting to achieve the goals of their Comprehensive Plan, he wrote.
“The bill is a clear violation of home rule and gives metro production builders complete control to determine the character and vision of all Georgia communities,” he wrote.
“It is important citizens contact representatives to help stop this attack on local communities,” he added.
Frye On Lower Costs
Frye told me in an email message exchange today (Monday) that he is “aware of” the Oconee County policy on foundations “and others around the state.”
I had sent Frye an email message yesterday (Sunday), asking: “Would you be willing to provide your reason for sponsoring HB 302? What is your goal with the bill?”
“This is about letting people build their homes according to their needs and not the government’s wants,” Frye said of the proposed bill in his response this morning.
“It lowers the overall costs associated with home ownership,” he said. “It protects the design rights of the homeowner. It allows people to be able to explore potential energy saving construction materials within the nationally accepted building codes.
“People have a right to build their home how they want, as artistically as they want, whatever color they want and with the materials that they choose,” he added. “This protects some of our creative class and gives them room to freely choose how they want to design their own homes.”
Gaines And Wiedower
Frye’s District 118 is entirely in Clarke County, but Wiedower’s 119th House District is split between Clarke and Oconee counties, with Clarke County slightly dominant in terms of registered voters.
Gaines’ 117th House District consists of parts of Barrow, Clarke, Jackson and Oconee counties, with Clarke the dominant part, followed by Oconee.
I sent Gaines and Wiedower separate email messages yesterday (Sunday) asking each: “What is your position on HB 302?” I also asked each if he had been asked to be a sponsor.
Gaines and Wiedower decided to respond in a single message.
“We appreciate your email and concern about this issue. We have the following response,” they wrote.
“This is an issue that will affect Oconee Co. and the entirety of our local area, and before supporting this bill, we want to fully understand the impact it may have. Since the bill was dropped, we have heard concerns from local officials in Clarke and Oconee counties.
“We strongly support private property rights, but also recognize and support local control. We look forward to watching this bill, hearing from our constituents and being a part of ongoing discussions as it moves through the committee process.”
Gaines and Wiedower are both in their first term in the General Assembly.
Gaines lists in his General Assembly biography that he “works at Cannon Financial Institute, where he serves clients across the country in the financial industry.” Cannon is an Athens company.
Wiedower has not placed his biography on the General Assembly web site.
He lists his occupation as real estate.
On his LinkedIn page, Wiedower says he is a realtor at Coldwell Banker Upchurch Realty.
Wiedower formerly was president of BluePrint Builders. According to his LinkedIn page, he left that position in November of last year. (The Georgia Secretary of State Office lists Wiedower as the registered agent for BluePrint Builders LLC as of Jan. 9, 2019.)
Frye, elected to the General Assembly in 2012, is the executive director for Athens Habitat for Humanity and, according to is biography, has been a small business owner and construction manager in the past.
I also wrote to Republican Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the state Senate, but he did not respond to my email message.