Local governments shouldn’t weigh in on the appearance of houses, according to some Georgia lawmakers

By Maggie Lee

A group of Georgia legislators and their homebuilder-supporters say local governments shouldn’t have the right to regulate how houses look.

House Bill 302 proposes that except in a few circumstances, local government should not regulate “building design elements” on one- and two-family houses.

Those “elements” include exterior color and materials, roof pitch and material, window and door placement, porches and ornaments.

The exceptions are for homes in homeowners’ associations and homes in a variety of historic zones or designations, including the National Register of Historic Places.

“I asked myself how far do we go? When do we stop with additional restrictions … how are they affecting private citizens and private property rights?” said state Rep. Vance Smith, R-Pine Mountain, presenting his bill at at the state Capitol on Wednesday.

About a half-dozen homebuliders or homebuilder lobbies came to speak for the bill, saying that local aesthetic regulations drive up home prices.

Georgia’s state Capitol building. Credit: Kelly Jordan

But Lilburn Mayor Johnny Crist said fellow mayors he’s asked about it can’t believe the idea.

“The reason our cities are the places you want to live is because of design standards,” Crist said, saying aesthetics are part of what make a city interesting and attractive to new residents.

Folks representing other city and county governments came to speak against it, saying 302 takes away local control and that rules on appearance protect property values.

“Citizens, not special interests, should make decisions about the look and feel of the communities that you all represent,” Tom Gehl of the Georgia Municipal Association told a panel of state House representatives.

Gehl pointed to communities’ “comprehensive plans,” which set guidelines on things like where growth and development will occur and what it will look like.

“These aren’t just whimsical plans,” said Gehl. “These are plans that are done with extensive, extensive community input.”

It’s not clear that lawmakers have feel strongly one way or the other.  The bill passed the House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee by a 6-5 vote.

It now remains to be seen whether it will get a full House floor vote. It would also need state Senate approval before going to Gov. Brian Kemp’s desk.

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

2 replies
  1. Avatar
    Amber L Rhea says:

    I am commenting here as a professional architectural historian. HB 302 seeks to limit local regulation of the built environment through the use of locally enacted design guidelines. Local historic district designation is one of the most powerful and most economically advantageous tools of preservation that exists today. To see just one synopsis of its effects in Georgia, I direct you to Donovan Rypkema’s 2010 study, “Good News in Tough Times” prepared for the Georgia Department of Natural Resources, Historic Preservation Division. This report details the positive economic effects of historic preservation, even as the economy as a whole suffered from the Great Recession.

    The view expressed by the legislators in this article are short-sighted and based on inaccurate information. Additionally, the photo used is misleading, because the 1980 state enabling legislation (O.C.G.A. 44-10-1, the Georgia Historic Preservation Act) specifies that paint color is not regulated by design guidelines enacted by local historic preservation commissions.

    Time and again, local historic designation has been shown to stabilize communities, increase job opportunities, keep money within local communities, and support economic growth. I urge everyone reading this to contact their state reps and ask them to oppose HB 302, because it would harm this important tool of preservation and economic stability in Georgia communities.Report

    Reply
  2. Avatar
    Karen Gentry says:

    Though this doesn’t appear to threaten historic districts, I hope it serves as a warning to preservationists. In tiny, nepotistic Georgia villages, what started out as a noble preservation cause has become just another way for well-connected groups to wield power and entrench economic segregation, i.e. My friends can develop that infill subdivision as long as it attracts a certain $$$ buyer, but the little people can’t replace their 100 year plus moisture-laden windows, not even with historically accurate reproductions.Report

    Reply

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