Commission expected to pass resolution against HB302

Published 5:46 pm Thursday, February 28, 2019

By Alicia B. Hill

On Tuesday, the LaGrange City Council passed a resolution opposing Georgia House Bill 302, which would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing standards relating to building design elements on one or two-family homes. The Troup County Board of Commissioners discussed a similar resolution during its work session on Thursday, which will be up for a vote next Tuesday.

If passed, House Bill 302 would effectively nullify many of the city and county’s requirements for building materials on homes to match the character of neighborhoods in all but historic districts and subdivisions with active covenants. Those requirements are a standard feature in many rezonings in both the city and the county.

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“Right now, there is a bill pending — it has kind of gotten bottled up in the House, and it has been refiled in the Senate as recently as late last week,” LaGrange Mayor Jim Thornton said. “It basically would take away from the cities and the counties the ability to write design standards into our zoning ordinance.”

One example of those requirements was fresh on the council’s mind on Tuesday as a vote to rezone a piece of land on Bryant Lake Boulevard was also unanimously approved. The rezoning was approved with conditions that require the same standards as in the neighboring existing development. That zoning received no comment from the council at that time, but the standards were referenced in a work session discussion.

“In 2007, as part of the Bryant Lake rezoning, the city council wrote design standards into that rezoning,” Thornton said. “At the recommendation of the planning commission, we’ve written design standards into the proposed rezoning that is on the agenda now. Literally, design standards appear throughout our zoning ordinance. We always discuss those and have the discretion locally whether to include them or not and modify them from time to time.”

Those standards are regularly discussed in both city council and Troup County Board of Commissioners meetings, especially when citizens living near a new development bring forward concerns that new development could devalue their property.

“So, you are telling me that what this bill is proposing is the same standards that would apply in Buckhead, would apply in Hogansville, Georgia?” Commissioner Lewis Davis asked on Thursday. “Basically, it is just another example of taking away the power of local government to decide what is best for their community.”

Jay Anderson, senior building official for Troup County, said that the bill would mean that no building standards could be applied beyond the building code. Regulations regarding everything from roof pitch to house color would no longer apply.

In a phone interview Thursday from Atlanta, Rep. Vance Smith (R – Pine Mountain), a sponsor of the bill, said his concern is for private property owners’ rights. 

“I just feel like at some point we are going to start interfering — and have in some areas — with those private property rights,” Smith said. “I believe citizens have the right, on their property, abiding by the laws that are on the books, to build their homes and have the right color, the right materials that they want on the outside. The state has a list of approved materials that you can build a home out of, so that is all the ones that they can use. As far as the structure of the house and the quality, I guess that would be left up to the building inspector’s department.”

Smith said that property maintenance codes and regulating the condition of properties could still be passed and enforced at the local level.

“It seems to me and to GMA to be an extreme overreach into what we call home rule, where we let every community design standards for themselves,” Thornton said. “LaGrange is different from Decatur, but it is also different from Blakely, and we can all make decisions for ourselves.”

According to Thornton, other GMA cities are expected to pass similar resolutions as they meet during regularly scheduled council meetings. According to Hogansville Mayor Bill Stankiewicz and West Point Mayor Steve Tramell, a resolution to oppose HB 302 will be up for a vote in Hogansville on Tuesday and in West Point the following week.

The LaGrange City Council will meet again on March, 12 at 5:30 p.m. at 208 Ridley Avenue.