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HB 517 aimed at local building regs
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Bryan County Commissioners are already being sued by home builders over the county’s uniform development ordinance and its design requirements.

Now, another bill is in the Georgia House that if passed would stop local governments from “adopting or enforcing” such rules, which can range from limiting the type of materials used on the outside of a home to the size of the lots they sit on, with a lot in between.

Called the “Georgia Homeowner Opportunity Act,” House Bill 517 is the second such piece of legislation created since 2019 taking aim at ordinances such as the one adopted by Bryan County commissioners in 2018.

The new bill, introduced by Macon Republican Dale Washburn, has the support of a group calling itself the Georgia Coalition for Housing Opportunity. Last week that organization, which includes the Georgia Chamber of Commerce, Habitat for Humanity, The Home Builders Association of Georgia and the Georgia Association of Realtors, said HB 517, along with HB 514 will address the state’s lack of affordable housing. House Bill 514 seeks to limit zoning moratoriums to no more than 180 days.

Bryan County Commission Chairman Carter Infinger said HB 517 will make it impossible for counties to regulate builders.

“If this passes there will be no local authority to regulate the building of homes in communities the way residents of those communities want them to be built,” Infinger said. “That includes the ability to enforce design standards and lot sizes. This bill would take all that away from local control and it allow it to be dictated by Atlanta.”

The Association of County Commissioners of Georgia has concerns about HB 514 and is opposed to HB 517, noting it “preempts local governments from regulating one- or two-family dwellings with design elements unless they are in a historic district. Building design elements include exterior building materials, roof styles, location of windows and doors, numbers and types of rooms, minimum square footage greater than 1,200, lot size minimums and widths, and others,” according to the ACCG’s Feb. 24 legislative update.

In a press release announcing its support of HB 517 and HB 514, the Georgia Coalition for Housing Opportunity said the bills “will address the affordable housing crisis in Georgia and encourage sustainable workforce housing solutions across the state.”

It noted current housing supply can’t keep up with demand. “While laws and regulations on the books today prevent private sector involvement, resulting in higher prices and lack of affordable housing, HB 517 and HB 514 will allow job creators to effectively innovate, invest, and meet the needs of Georgia communities.”

In 2019 legislators tried to pass HB 302, which would have had a similar effect. It was opposed by the ACCG and Georgia Municipal Association, among others.

In the courts

Bryan County’s UDO, along with the county’s impact fee ordinance, led to a 2019 lawsuit filed by the Home Builders Association of Greater Savannah. A hearing on the lawsuit is set for March 8 in Pembroke.

During similar hearings in 2019, held before COVID shut down courtrooms around the state, home builders who testified said the county’s ordinances added some $20,000-$30,000 to the cost of a new home.

They also said at the time they needed to be able to offer a house for around $260,000 for it to sell. And, lawyers and witnesses discussed the merits of various grades of vinyl siding for hours.

County officials said during the hearing such ordinances are within the community’s right to help manage growth and are part of its responsibility to its residents.

Roughly four years later, the real estate website on Wednesday there are 361 homes for sale in Bryan County, with a median listing price of $410,000 and a median sold home price of $393,500 Bryan County is the fastest growing county in the state and sixth fastest growing county in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2020 census count. One estimate on worldpopulation. com has the county’s 2023 population at 49,088, up 3 percent since 2022. That’s higher than the Bryan County Development Authority’s projection for 2024 on its website of 44,801 residents.

And with Hyundai’s decision to bring some 8,100 jobs to Black Creek and another 1,500 to Richmond Hill, officials expect the population to continue to climb and the demand for residential housing to continue to grow.

What county’s uniform design ordinances regulate: Bryan County’s design standards only apply to major subdivisions of seven lots or more, according to an overview provided by the county. They also only apply to single-family residential zoning and multi-family zoning, not property zoned for agricultural use or rural residential.

Planned developments can modify parts of guidelines and have their own regulations. While there is some leeway in what builders can do, and there are some allowances in what county employees can allow builders to do, the county does prohibit the use of “vinyl/plastic siding, unfinished concrete block materials and metal siding” in its residential building.

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