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Local governments take aim at HB 302
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Opponents say a measure being considered in the Georgia General Assembly could spell the end of local government’s ability to regulate home builders.

Proponents paint a different picture, saying House Bill 302 is necessary “to stand up for private property rights and the ability of Georgians to design their own homes to their own tastes,” according to a press release from the Georgia Home Builders Association.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Vance Smith (R-Pine Valley) and co-sponsored by several others, including state Rep. Jon Burns (R-Newington), if passed as written will amend state law “so as to prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances and regulations relating to or regulating building design elements as applied to one or two-family dwellings.”

The bill has been criticized by groups ranging from the Georgia Municipal Association to the Association of County Commissioners. All three local governments are against it, describing the legislation as a power grab that would upend the traditional balance between state and local government.

“We join the county, Pembroke and most everyone else in opposition to HB 302,” Richmond Hill Mayor Russ Carpenter said Tuesday night, a week after city council passed a resolution opposing the bill. “This bill goes against the foundation of home rule, which means residents of our community, and no one else, should make decisions about what happens here. Our stand has been communicated to our state legislators.”

Pembroke has taken a similar stance, with a letter to Burns signed by Mayor Judy Cook in which HB 302 is described as, “an overstep of state authority, an encroachment on home rule and a challenge of local authority by builders’ associations, realtors and their lobbyists.”

The Bryan County Board of Commissioners is currently facing legal action from one such group.

The Home Builders Association of Greater Savannah recently sued the county over the unanimous passage of an interim design ordinance and impact fee, and that suit is apparently still in the early stages.

The home builders group shared a press release from the state home builders association on its website explaining support of HB 302 as relief from “restrictive design requirements on new residential construction,” and local government boards overstepping their role while adding thousands to the cost of homes.

“What used to be the purview of a Home Owners Association are now decisions made by city or county administrators with jurisdiction-wide application,” the press release said. “What used to be years of planning for ‘your dream home’ can now be changed in an instant by a government-sponsored architectural review board.”

Proponents also say the bill will still require new homes to be built to state building code, while also allowing local governments to “amend the state’s building codes to tackle local issues that are specific to local communities,” the release said. “Of course, historic preservation districts will continue to be protected by state laws.”

It also claims local governments “around the state of Georgia have enacted restrictive design requirements on new residential construction - adding thousands of dollars to the price of a new home with no public benefit regarding the safety or integrity of a new home.”

Opponents of the bill say there’s more to it than that.

Bryan County Administrator Ben Taylor said in an email the bill “will take the self determination of a community’s development away from those who see it every day, raise a family in it, shop in it, and live in it, and place its fate in the state government who makes decisions from afar.”

He also pointed to input from Bryan County residents who “participated in a year-long update of our comprehensive plan last year, with overwhelmingly large participation. This bill would not only go against the recommendations of that citizen-derived plan, but yield it nothing more than a paperweight.”

Pembroke’s letter to Burns notes the city’s support of Lula in that city’s resolution in which it declares that local 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.”

The letter also said Pembroke “stands opposed to ‘out-of-town’ builders telling local jurisdictions what is best for their market, their safety, their consumers and their communities,” before ending with “The City of Pembroke stands for local authority over local issues and we hope you as our elected leadership and partners in public service do too.”

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