Legislation introduced by the Georgia General Assembly to set statewide zoning requirements was met with lukewarm reception from some elected officials, but they agreed that the issue the bill proposes to address — affordable housing — is a problem.
The Georgia Homeowners’ Empowerment Act – HB 517 prohibits local governments from adopting or enforcing building design ordinances or regulations with respect to one- or two-family dwellings. The bill establishes a statewide square footage standard and lot size requirements, according to the Neighborhood Council.
The bill was transferred to the Committee on Government Affairs of the House of Representatives.
“There are half a dozen bills right now that take away from us as policy advisors and policy makers the ability to do what our community is demanding. I think the good news is that 517 is clearly unconstitutional,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said during the March 1 annual Board of Appeals and Planning Commission meeting.
He said the Georgia Constitution reserves zoning and land use exclusively for local government.
The Sandy Springs Borough Council shared a release opposing HB 517, saying it is a bad bill for all cities in Georgia.
“This legislation undermines one of the core functions of all local governments; to plan for the growth and development of their community, and this undermines the ability of local residents to contribute to local community planning processes,” the release said.
Representative Shea Roberts does not support HB 517 as drafted. But she said she is concerned about the state of housing affordability and believes tough decisions will have to be made to hope to solve the problem.
“There is a shortage of affordable one- and two-family housing. Land prices are so expensive that I believe municipalities need to start looking for more creative options that include smaller lots and square footage, and ways to reduce red tape and administrative costs that are passed on to buyers,” said Roberts.
Gov. Brian Kemp has expressed support for relaxed zoning requirements, which could give the bill traction, she said.
Paul agreed that there are real challenges in affordable housing across the region. The mayor said he was working for the Atlanta Regional Commission when it called a local housing authority task force.
“We are trying to deal with it, but we cannot control the market. We cannot control what you want to sell on the site. We cannot wave a magic wand and create new carpenters, masons, plumbers and electricians,” Pavel said.
Sandy Springs Together co-founder Melanie Kuchman said there are more than 70 municipalities in the metro area, each with its own zoning and development code. This approach forces each city to compete to be more exclusive than its neighbors, so nothing happens to promote affordable housing, she said.
“Unfortunately, in none of these cities in the metro area have we seen bold action to address our housing crisis. Therefore, we are not surprised that the intervention of another level of government is taking place,” she said.
In Sandy Springs, 85 percent of residential land is zoned exclusively for single-family detached homes, leaving little land for economic growth, Kuchman said. Studies of the city’s Next 10 Comprehensive Plan, its 5-year update, the Strategic Economic Development Plan and the Housing Needs Assessment have shown that the lack of housing is slowing the city’s growth, she said. The Housing Needs Assessment reported that employers said their employees commute more than an hour.
“As traffic increases, their concerns about attracting and retaining labor become more pressing concerns,” she said.
The bill is being interpreted broadly when issues need to be addressed on a case-by-case basis because the challenges each city faces are different, Kuchman said.
Couchman said she hopes cities will respond positively to this legislative action and use it as a catalyst for more discussion about how to address housing needs, because it’s not just in Sandy Springs, but across the state.