Threats to home rule in terms of residential building standards and controlling short-term vacation rentals — such as Airbnb — were among the topics of discussion at a legislative delegation meeting held Monday at The Brickery in Jackson.
State Reps. Susan Holmes, R-Monticello, and Andy Welch, R-McDonough, were present, along with Joel Wiggins of the Georgia Municipal Association and Todd Edwards of the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. State Sen. Burt Jones, R-Jackson, was unable to attend.
Among local governments were representatives of the Butts County Commission, Butts County Board of Education, Jackson City Council and Flovilla City Council.
In discussing legislation coming up in the 2020 General Assembly, Edwards noted that both ACCG and GMA spend the majority of their time defending counties and cities from legislation that could be detrimental to them. Edwards said this year there are two bills that could impact home rule, which is the ability of cities and counties to make decisions on behalf of their citizens.
“What we saw last year that will come into play this year is a bill in the House (HB 302) and in the Senate (SB 172) that would threaten local governments’ ability to enact design standards on residential housing,” Edwards said. “This is anything and everything above the state minimum building code. We respectfully believe that the design standards, whether we like them or not, should be a decision made at the local level.”
The legislation would take away the ability of local governments to specify standards regarding square footage, exterior components such as siding and roofing materials, house color palettes, landscaping, or even floor plans.
Edwards added that there are some heavy hitters backing the bills.
“Not only are the residential home builders and Realtors strongly behind it — and that’s a pretty influential group at the state Capitol — but some of the cement industries and the Georgia Chamber of Commerce have jumped on board,” he said. “Now the commercial builders — multi-family housing and manufactured housing — are supporting. If you open it up for residential, the commercial standards won’t be far behind. We prefer that decision be made by your cities and county here on the local level.”
Wiggins expressed his gratitude for Holmes’ hard work fighting the bill in the House Agricultural Committee.
Holmes replied that her experience on the local level made her decision to fight the legislation easy.
“Having been a mayor for 12 years in Monticello, I’ve seen what design standards can mean for communities,” she said. “I was just so grateful we were able to beat it back last year.”
Welch noted that state legislation which would take the regulation of short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnbs out of the hands of local governments is another threat in the upcoming session.
“It strikes me as ironic that we have entire code sections in the Constitution entitled ‘Home Rule,’ and yet we have a state that continues to try to change that to state rule,” Welch said. “That is disturbing when you start monkeying with some strong constitutional principles that have existed in this state since its founding. I’m always very trepidatious about anyone trying to trample on those rights.
“One thing that we need to be concerned about is our ability to regulate bed and breakfasts and Airbnbs. That’s a bill that also threatens your home rule.”
While Welch is against the state determining regulations, he said he also believes banning Airbnbs is not the right answer.
“There are some places that want to ban them outright, and that’s not the right course of action, either. A prohibition isn’t right,” he said. “It is like going into the marketplace and picking winners and losers. We ought to make it fair for competition, but make sure the competition is cognizant of the customers who are using it and the neighboring property owners who are having to endure it.
“Lake Jackson is the perfect example,” Welch added. “If you have a house on Lake Jackson and the guy next door is leasing his house out as an Airbnb where anybody can come down and have a party there, you can anticipate the problems. That’s another issue that seems small, but it is another way of eroding away your local government authority. That’s another defensive issue to think about.”