Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oconee County Commission Votes To Oppose House And Senate Bills Prohibiting Local Regulation Of Housing Standards

***Local Legislators Targeted***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302 and identical Senate Bill 172 that would prohibit local governments from regulating design standards on one and two-family residential properties.

The resolution is directed at Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents the county in the Senate. All are Republicans, as are the five Oconee County commissioners.

None of the three legislators has taken a public stand on the bill, and Gaines and Wiedower, in a column in the Thursday edition of The Oconee Enterprise, say they are still soliciting “input and opinions” on the legislation.

The pair sent a letter to the commissioners on Tuesday, however, thanking the commissioners for meeting and discussing the bills and asking the commissioners “to take official action and adopt a resolution opposing” the bills.

Vance Smith, a Republican from House District 133, north of Columbus, who is the lead author of House Bill 302, appeared before the Rules Committee of the House Wednesday. The Rules Committee did not take a vote on the bill before it adjourned.

Commission Chair Comments

Commission Chair John Daniell, in introducing the resolution Tuesday night, said passage of the bill would negatively impact the county as it works to fulfill the comprehensive plan it passed last year.

Horton, 2/26/2019

Daniell also said the bill “is being pushed by the homebuilders lobby. And also the realtor’s lobby has joined in with that push.”

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, and these include color, type of cladding, styles of roof structure, location of windows and doors, including garage doors, and the types of foundations.

The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee has recommended passage of the bill.

Other Commissioners Respond

Commissioner Chuck Horton was most outspoken at the meeting on Tuesday night.

“I would say that you need to contact our representatives and tell them your feelings,” Horton told those in attendance at the meeting.

“To me, this is probably one of the worst pieces of legislation that ever come out of Atlanta since I’ve paid attention,” Horton continued.

“This is a complete attack on home rule. It is like a strike in the night without warning. The other thing to me is where do they go next?”

Commissioner William “Bubber” Wilkes said he agreed with Horton and is opposed to the bills.

“One of the things that struck me in this is that, for one, our comp plan that we just finished, basically would be null and void if this goes through,” Commissioner Mark Thomas said.

Thomas said a city such as Helen, Georgia, with its distinctive building style, would be prohibited for maintaining the style in the future if the bills were to pass.

Gaines And Wiedower Column

Gaines and Wiedower have been writing a column in tandem in the Enterprise, starting with the Jan. 24 edition.

Each week, the two talk about their experiences in Atlanta as the session progresses.

About half way through the column on page B5 of tomorrow’s (Thursday’s) paper, the pair writes:

“We also want to mention HB 302, which deals with zoning and local control over building design.

“We know this bill has been the subject of much discussion in Oconee County, and, as written, may be harmful for our community.

“The bill made it through the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee and may come to the floor for a vote soon.

“We appreciate the Oconee County Commissioners joining us in Atlanta to be involved in the discussion and ensuring all sides have a seat at the table.

“We continue to welcome your input and opinions on this impactful legislation.”

The letter to the Commissioners, which I obtained through an open records request, Wiedower and Gaines thank the commissioners for meeting with them.

"With the concerns we have all voiced," they wrote, "we hope that you will take official action and adopt a resolution opposing the proposed HB-302 as well as SB-172."

Other Action

In other action at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday, the Board gave tentative approval to an intergovernmental agreement with the city of Watkinsville to allow the county to provide project management on extension of a sewer line through the city’s industrial park.

The city is paying for the line with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue, but the line ultimately will be turned over to the county, which provides sewerage treatment for the city and county.

The Board also gave tentative approval to a request to the Georgia Department of Revenue for a report of vendors who filed sales tax returns and amounts attributable to the county.

County officials have frequently stated concerns that sales tax revenues, particularly from stores in the commercial area along Epps Bridge Parkway, are being properly credited to the county.

Legislation passed by the General Assembly last year will allow counties to obtain these records for the first time, but the county must request the information and stipulate how the confidentiality of the information will be preserved.

The intergovernmental agreement and the request of the Department of Revenue are on the consent agenda for next week’s Board of Commissioners meeting, meaning they will be approved without further discussion unless there is objection of a commissioner.

Economic Development

The Commissioner also discussed but took no action on a Memorandum of Understanding with the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce that would transfer to the Chamber responsibility for economic development in the county.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac said that the county would partner with the Chamber for economic development services that the county previously obtained through employment of an economic development director.

The memorandum creates an Economic Development Council that would oversee the economic development activities of the Chamber.

The Economic Development Council would consist of the Chair of the Board of Commissioners and another commissioner, one member of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, the chair of the Chamber and one additional Chamber Board member.

The county would contribute $100,000 to the Chamber for the services.

The item will be on the agenda for discussion next week.


I was not able to attend the Board of Commissioners meeting, but Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video below.

Discussion of the Memorandum of Understanding with the Chamber is at 4:57 in the video.

Discussion of House Bill 302 and Senate Bill 172 begins at 13:24 in the video.

The video below, from the General Assembly archive, is of the House Rules Committee meeting in Atlanta on Wednesday morning.

Smith, the first sponsor of HB 302, began his presentation to the Rules Committee at 16:59 in the video. (Smith is in the frame captured below.)


Anonymous said...

Normally I do not agree with state sponsored interference in local affairs. However, for this legislation I make an exception. Oconee County has no business telling people they have to have a basement or any other attachment added to their house. What will it be next? Everyone has to have a garage? A separate laundry room? A kitchen of a certain size? Butt.Out.OC.

Michael Prochaska said...

Regarding the statement about the legislators not taking a public stance on the bill:

Marcus Wiedower called The Oconee Enterprise on the morning of Thursday Feb. 21 stating his opposition to the bill. I asked him if Houston Gaines feels the same way, and he said yes. Although The Enterprise will sometimes break news on its website or social media platforms, this seemed like a story that could be published when all reporting was done and complete on our weekly deadline. The half-page story on B4 of The Oconee Enterprise reveals Widower's and Gaines' feelings on the bill.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to BOC!

Zippity said...

Hopefully our representatives will listen to the commissioners on this very bad bill or maybe even better, the bill won't get out of the Rules Committee. It is interesting that the sales tax revenues from businesses must be kept confidential. Wonder why that is?

Lee Becker said...


Thanks for the additional information.

I asked both Gaines and Wiedower separately to indicate a position on HB 302 before I first wrote about the bill on Feb. 15. I asked Cowsert as well. Gaines and Wiedower wrote me back and said they had not taken a position. Cowsert has written me back on another matter, but he has not taken a position on the bills.

In their column in today's edition of your paper, Gaines and Wiedower do not take a position. They asked the Commission to adopt a resolution in opposition to the bill. This post contains the information from the column and from the letter.

I also wrote to Gaines and Wiedower asking for a copy of their letter to the Commission. They did not send it. I obtained it from the county, as I wrote.

Your story quotes then as saying they oppose the bill as currently written. But they do not say that in their column. Since the column and the letter are their written words, I used those in this post.


Anonymous said...

Michael went by the actual source. The sources are politicians, so what can you say.
Lee and Michael are dedicated journalists-thanks to you both.

As it stands now:
Bad bill
Wishy-Washy elected officials
Citizens held up by their whims.
Yes, that’s about right.
God help us all.