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Local governments skeptical of bill that would limit their ability to regulate building standards
09282017 STATE CAPITOL
Georgia's state Capitol in Atlanta. - photo by Associated Press

A Georgia bill that would limit local governments’ abilities to restrict architecture on homes in their cities or counties is getting a rise out of area officials.

“I don’t think we need more rules,” Lula City Councilman Garnett Smith said at a Feb. 18 City Council meeting.

The council voted unanimously to oppose House Bill 302, which would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to building design elements on single-family homes or duplexes.

Other governments are reacting as well.

Oakwood Mayor Lamar Scroggs has sent letters to state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, and Rep. Emory Dunahoo, R-Gainesville, saying the city “firmly believes that appropriate local design standards and land use policies create a diverse, stable, profitable and sustainable residential development landscape.

“HB 302 erodes the ability of local community to make decisions about the look and feel of their communities, which fosters economic development, preserves the character of communities, and utilizes design standards to ensure that the property values of surrounding property owners remain protected from incompatible development.”

Hall County spokeswoman Katie Crumley said county officials are researching how the bill could affect the county’s standards, and the county would submit suggestions to the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.

Rusty Ligon, Gainesville’s director of community development, said the city is also evaluating the bill. And Rich Atkinson, Flowery Branch’s community development director, said the city is “looking into this matter.”

Georgia Association of Realtors, an Atlanta-based trade organization, supports the bill, saying it “protects homeowners and potential homeowners from the overstep of government into their lives.”

“It allows communities to grow and young families to be able to purchase their first homes and not be forced into being perpetual renters,” the group says on its website. “It brings the American dream of homeownership within reach of more citizens, not just the ones local officials think deserve to be homeowners.”

Lula is the only government so far to pass a resolution on the matter.

“County and municipal governments use building design standards to protect property values, attract high quality builders and block incompatible development. … Building design standards assure residents and business owners that their investments will be protected,” states the resolution from Lula, which will be passed on to Hall County’s legislative delegation.

Mayor Jim Grier said the city should keep its development standards rather than allow state officials to decide.

“We don’t go to extremes with it, but we do have some development standards that require some things be done a certain way in a certain area,” Grier said at the end of the meeting. “…We want that bill to fail so we can still have that local control and not have somebody down at the Capitol deciding.”

Councilman Mordecai Wilson also said the control should stay local.

“Are they saying we don’t have a voice in selecting what type of home or materials go in it? They want to take that away from us?” Wilson said. “… I oppose it.”

When asked about the bill, state Rep. Lee Hawkins, R-Gainesville, told The Times that he hadn’t fully studied the bill, but that “my position has always been more local control and less state and federal control.”

The bill also has drawn opposition from the Georgia Municipal Association.

“Put simply, this bill takes power away from citizens to decide the look and feel of our communities,” the group says. “It is a serious threat to home rule and local citizens’ control, but a boon to homebuilders and real estate developers.”

Times reporter Megan Reed contributed.

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