Thursday, February 21, 2019

Georgia House Committee Passes Bill Prohibiting Cities And Counties From Regulating Family Dwellings

***Oconee And Clarke Counties Targeted***

The Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives voted 6-5 Wednesday morning to pass House Bill 302 prohibiting local governments from regulating building design of one or two-family dwellings.

The vote followed a discussion of more than an hour that was dominated by the building industry in the state, with speakers strongly favoring the bill and criticizing local regulations of residential housing.

One of the most outspoken of those who addressed the Committee was Jared York, past president of the Athens Area Home Builders Association, who singled out Clarke and Oconee counties for criticism.

Representatives of the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia spoke against the bill, as did Lilburn Mayor Johnny Crist. Lilburn is in Gwinnett County.

Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell and Commissioner Chuck Horton attended the meeting and asked to speak, but Committee Chair Tom McCall called for a vote before they could do so.

The bill now goes to the Rules Committee, which oversees the flow of legislation and determines which bills will be debated and voted on by the House.

HB 302 Basics

A bipartisan group of six members of the Georgia House of Representatives introduced House Bill 302 on Feb. 13.

Screen Shot of York 2/20/2019

The proposed legislation states that “No county or municipal corporation shall adopt or enforce any ordinance or regulation relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.”

The bill lists the “building design" elements of one or two-family dwellings that cannot be regulated by local governments.

These are exterior building color, type or style of exterior cladding material, style or materials of roof structures or porches, exterior nonstructural architectural ornamentation, location or architectural styling of windows and doors, including garage doors, the number and types of rooms, the interior layout of rooms, and types of foundation structures approved under state minimum standard codes.

Exceptions are made for historic districts or landmarks, regulations that are a requirement of applicable state minimum standard codes, the regulation of manufactured homes consistent with code for such homes, or ordinances adopted as a condition of participation in the National Flood Insurance Program.

Builders Take Stand

Vance Smith, a Republican from House District 133, north of Columbus, is the lead author of HB 302, and he introduced the bill to the Committee at the hearing Wednesday morning.

He said his concern is with how these local restrictions “are affecting private citizens and private property rights.”

Vance said that he is not a builder, but his biography on the House of Representatives web site states that he owns and operates Vance Smith Contracting and Consulting, which provides services to the industry.

Nine speakers followed Smith, and six of them opposed the bill. Of the six, five were from the building industry, and the sixth was from the vinyl siding industry.

One of the most outspoken members of the Committee was Winfred Dukes, a Democrat from Albany. Dukes is one of the two Democrats who sponsored the bill.

Dukes is chief executive officer of Dukes, Edwards and Dukes, Inc., a family owned construction and real estate firm based in Albany, according to his biography.

Athens Area Home Builders Association

York, who is owner of J.W. York Homes of Athens and is on the Board of Directors of Athens Area Home Builders Association, was the fourth to speak after Smith.

He focused on his experiences in Athens-Clarke County and Oconee County, where, he said, he does most of his building.

“Right now we find ourselves just trying to build any home we can get permitted,” he said.

“The problem is the administration of these design standards and the local ordinances that our elected officials are putting upon us are destroying our business processes and are destroying our ability to evaluate real estate, purchase it, buy it, develop it and turn it into single family homes for the working class citizens of our community.”

“We have ordinances in Clarke County,” York said, “that require us to add architectural features to homes. These ordinances also tell us how many bedrooms we may have in a home and what interior rooms can look like in certain homes.”

Oconee Restrictions On Slab Homes Cited

“The other community I build in, Oconee County,” York said, “they recently did an ordinance to severely limit the ability to do slab construction.

“Slab construction is the number one construction method in the United States of America,” York said. “There is nothing wrong with it.”

“That ordinance was put into place to slow growth, to raise the entry-level price of a house in the county, and to limit the number of students who are getting added to the school system in those districts,” York claimed.

“It was on purpose to shut out track builders and people who build workforce housing because the people in that county--or the commissioners and administrators in the county--were saying we don’t want those people here,” York charged.

The second Democratic sponsor of HB 302 is Spencer Frye from House District 118, which falls entirely in Clarke County. He did not speak at the Committee meeting today.

Frye is executive director of Athens Habitat for Humanity and is on the Board of Directors of the Athens Area Home Builders Association. He also is the owner of Leaf Lodge Construction LLC.


Tom Gehl from the Georgia Municipal Association said, “Put simply, this bill takes the power away from the people, the citizens, to decide the look and feel of our communities.”

Screen Shot Of Gehl (Left) And Edwards 2/20/2019

Gehl said HB 302 “is a serious threat to home rule and the citizens’ control. But it a real boon to the home builders.”

If HB 302 becomes law, Gehl said, “Citizens would not be allowed to work with their neighbors, their planning commissions, their elected officials, to protect their investments in their property values and regulate design standards for residential homes.”

Todd Edwards, deputy legislative director with the Association County Commissioners of Georgia, said discussions of appropriate design standards “best take place at the local level, within each city, within each county.”

Edwards said 30 of Georgia’s 159 counties do not have zoning laws and that “There are 10 that may be impacted by this bill as far as the design standards on single homes.”

If local communities cannot regular design standards, Edwards said, “we do leave a lot of these decisions in the hands of developers and homebuilders without appropriate community input.”

“Home rule is a principle in Georgia,” Edwards said. “Home rule works.”


I did not attend the meeting of the Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee, though I did watch it via live streaming.

The session started at 8 a.m. and lasted nearly 90 minutes.

The video below is from the archives of video from the House of Representatives.

McCall, Committee chair, is from Elberton and is one of the sponsors of HB 302.

Discussion of House Bill 302 followed a discussion of a bill on industrial hemp and begins at 22:28 in the video.

York began speaking at 53:06.

Gehl began speaking at 1:05:15.

Edwards spoke at 1:08:09.

The Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee has 24 members, and all of them were not sitting at the table as the meeting progressed.

Many of those who did attend left before the final vote.

It is not possible from the video to determine how the 11 voted, though that will be recorded at some point on the House web site.

(Update on 2/22/19: I learned this morning from Leigh Goff, the administrative assistant to the Committee, that no formal record of the vote has been taken and actual votes will never be recorded. In addition, I learned that while the motion was to "pass" the bill, technically what the Committee has done is recommend that the bill be passed by the full House.)


Mike Horsman said...

As usual, this is all about money. Supporters of this bill are looking to line their pockets and care nothing about the communities they will be negatively affecting. It’s no surprise the legislators pushing this bill all stand to profit from it. This is yet another push to remove power from local communities and transfer it to the profiteers at the State.
Growth in Oconee County MUST be limited or we will lose what we hold so dear about our home. We don’t want to be the next Gwinnett County and we won’t let it happen without a fight.

Anonymous said...

I don't have any idea how to defeat this bill, but it needs to be. ACOG needs to throw everything they can against it. EVERY county needs to be able to decide their own standards so we don't become a county of junk homes. I'll bet Wiedower, as a builder, is fully behind the bill.

Anonymous said...

This bill leaves no oversight to communities or their elected officials. I agree the bill was a set up from the stacked committee of people with building interests to our own county with a representative that is part of the building industry. If Weidower represented Oconee he would FIRST against this bill. He will hold to the rear and see how votes are going before he casts a vote.

A very defining moment on whether our county is soundly planned or the masses of out of county developers destroy a beautiful community.

Sad day-think before you vote parasites into office.

Anonymous said...

This is a big deal and not in a good way. Here's hoping common sense prevails ultimately. I'm not holding my breath.

Zippity said...

I agree with all of you. This bill should be defeated. Hopefully our local elected officials will hear us. Be sure to let them know what you think. And then hold them responsible with your vote when they run again.

Anonymous said...

This bill is a huge over reaction to an over reach by a few municipalities and counties. There is no sound justification for some of these gov't over reaches into tried and proven construction methods (slabs have been used for decades and are the predominate type of foundation in many areas of the US),however a local gov't should have rules and guidelines for the look and feel of homes in a given area. Property appraisal would be a nightmare if there was no uniformity. There are way to many variations in what individuals perceive as nice or nice looking to leave it as a free for all. As a side note, how about some of the judgmental people that comment actually call their representative and ask them about it instead of presuming what someone else thinks. If we are presuming, my presumption would be that you've never had a serious conversation with either representative and most definitely didn't vote for either one anyway.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 3:52
Glad to hear from the “Re-election campaign “ . Weidower has NOT made a public statement only hid behind a vague wait and see noncommittal jargon. Cowsart as usual is out of town or does not return calls.

This is not about variation and perception, but real over building with no controls. Hello higher taxes, elevated crime, with infer structure, pakrs, senior centers and libraries pushed to the limit. Oconee will be in a catch-up mode and never make it.

I have little faith in the elected officials that work in the development and real estate industry to do anything but take care of their bottom line.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 10:49

Exactly which politicians do you have faith in? Career politicians?

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8:39