City officials in DeKalb say bill planning to regulate residential lots would reduce local controlGeorgia State Capitol. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Decatur, GA — The Georgia General Assembly could soon take up a bill aiming to make homes more affordable through design standards. Local officials in DeKalb County say the bill would reduce local control.
Rep. Dale Washburn (R- Macon) has plans to introduce legislation that would reduce some of the control local governments have to regulate housing design standards, according to the Georgia Recorder.
Washburn chaired a House study committee that heard from experts in housing, business, and government leaders on how to build homes for a growing labor force. The bill would change the state building code to lower minimum lot sizes and square footage requirements, as well as some of the costs associated with water and sewer installation, the Georgia Recorder reported.
City officials in Decatur, Clarkston, and Avondale Estates say the bill would reduce the local control they have over their municipalities.
Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said that if the legislation is passed, it would impact every city in the state, and the impacts would be uneven.
“It is my understanding that the Georgia Municipal Association is working with authors regarding the specifics of the bill to see if there are some areas of compromise,” Garrett said.
Garrett also served as a member of the Local Leadership Housing Action Committee that the Atlanta Regional Commission put together last year.
“One of the primary outcomes was the recognition that there was not a ‘one size fits all’ solution and that local jurisdictions have to find solutions that work in their communities,” she said. “I believe that [the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia] and GMA are echoing that message to the state legislature.”
She was also concerned that the areas where this legislation could be most easily applied are areas where homes and lots are less expensive, and the result could be cheaper, less substantial housing.
“I am much more concerned about the impacts of investors in purchasing existing, less expensive housing stock in some of these areas,” Garrett said.
In terms of design standards, Garrett said they should not be loosened to “offer more resilience and safety in our buildings as we know empirically that climate change is demanding higher performance than ever from our built environment in terms of efficiency and safety both.”
“We pay for lower standards one way or another, and it would be through higher energy costs and insurance claims if housing isn’t built well,” she added.
Climate challenges in Decatur are different from a rural town or a coastal area.
“We can create standards that respond the best to our local environment which is reacting now to urban heat effect, storm water, and tree loss to name a few things,” Garrett said.
Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks is against any bill that takes away local control, especially related to zoning.
“Residents have the most control of their communities through the local government,” Burks said. “This bill would not take into consideration proposed land usage that local elected officials and residents planned collectively via master plans and comprehensive plans.”
She hopes the bill would focus on regulating corporations and investors buying entry-level homes in the state. Burks also said that reducing the square footage of a home wouldn’t equate to lower housing prices.
“Unless the state legislature requires developers to allocate a designated number of housing units to be affordable, nothing is stopping the developers from market rates,” she said. “The bill takes local control of housing development from municipalities. The bill clearly favors developers from having to work directly with local municipalities and counties’ zoning procedures.”
One size doesn’t fit all cities when it comes to zoning, she added.
“It feels like this bill is a step forward for Governor Kemp’s labor force housing, which is more in favor of corporations invading rural Georgia and not requiring them to work directly with local governments and residents,” Burks said.
She hopes the governor’s plans also prepare individuals to receive educational assistance to improve skills and keep some of the job opportunities in rural areas.
“That will help them to afford better housing without having to lure so many new people to rural areas and change the hometown charm of our smaller cities,” Burks said.
Avondale Estates Mayor Jonathan Elmore and City Manager Patrick Bryant concurred that the bill would reduce local control.
“The city of Avondale Estates would oppose any legislation that erodes local control, and this legislation would erode local control by restricting a municipality’s ability to build design elements into their zoning code,” Bryant said.
He added that it’s important for any local government to be able to control how their municipality is developed
In Avondale, the city is trying to preserve the standard lot size through it’s zoning code.
“The neighborhood was largely laid out and built by the time a lot of the zoning was enacted, and certainly when we redid it. We’re just trying to maintain the character that already exists. There’s not a lot of available land in Avondale,” Elmore said. “It’s something that we should be able to control based on our unique situation as a city, and every city’s different.”
“We all have our unique thing, and you have to use zoning to control it and help you grow in a way that you want to grow,” Elmore added. “That’s how we control our destiny.”
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