State Rep. Meagan Hanson (R-Brookhaven) told attendees of the Sandy Springs High Point Civic Association’s March 21 annual meeting that she opposed the recently approved bill prohibiting cities restrictions on wood-frame apartments because of safety concerns and because it takes away local control.
“I was mostly perturbed because the state is now telling us what products we can and cannot use to build things,” she told the crowd gathered at Highpoint Episcopal Community Church. “I was like, hello, local control.”
House Bill 876, dubbed the “wood bill” at the state Capitol, according to Hanson, is now headed to Gov. Nathan Deal’s desk for his signature after it was approved in the House and then in the Senate on March 19.
The bill eliminates Dunwoody and Sandy Springs’ restrictions on wood-frame apartments. The mayors for both cities have spoken out strongly against the bill. Sandy Springs held a press conference to oppose the bill. The Dunwoody City Council is expected to consider a resolution at its March 26 meeting asking Deal to veto the bill.
“The elected officials of the city of Dunwoody recognize and appreciate Gov. Nathan Deal’s history of respect for local control and ask that he further that legacy by vetoing HB-876 due to its aggressive erosion of citizens having the ability to set their own standards,” the resolution reads.
Dunwoody and Sandy Springs have codes that require certain large buildings, especially multi-family housing over three stories tall, to be built of concrete and steel rather than wood for fire safety and quality reasons. The Sandy Springs version, passed in 2016, drew strong opposition from the timber industry.
Hanson told members of the High Point Civic Association her “no” vote was also due to safety factors she learned from Sandy Springs Fire Chief Keith Sanders, who testified before the General Assembly against the bill.
“We in Sandy Springs [members of the state House representing Sandy Springs] were against this bill because it is a safety and health concern for us,” she said.
Hanson also mentioned she spoke briefly with a building lobbyist at the Gold Dome before coming to the High Point Civic Association meeting. She said the lobbyist told her one potential way around the law could be for municipalities to change their building codes rather than their ordinances.
“That could be something to look in to,” she said.
Other topics Hanson discussed:
The “brunch bill”
Senate Bill 17, known as the “brunch bill,” is also headed to the governor’s desk for his signature. The bill changes the time for privately owned restaurants from 12:30 p.m. to 11 a.m. Local voters would have to approve the measure before the time change goes into effect.
Hanson said just that hour-and-a-half would generate an extra $100 million a year in revenue with $11 million in taxes going to the state, according to the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Hanson serves on the Transportation Committee and on the House Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Overview Committee (MARTOC).
She supported House Bill 930 to allow 13 metro Atlanta counties to raise sales taxes to fund public transportation and also add millions in state funding for transit expansion; this would be the first time the state has contributed money to MARTA.
The state Senate is currently considering a similar bill.
The legislation would also create a statewide regional transportation governance board, Hanson said, known as “The ATL.” Currently there are 12 different transit agencies in various counties, all with different branding and different payment methods. For example, besides MARTA there are the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority, Gwinnett County Transit and CobbLinc.
The wide number of transit agencies is confusing and not efficient, she said. One legislator timed a ride from Kennesaw to Duluth at more than four hours, Hanson said.
“By bringing all transit systems under one brand … we can make it where people want to ride more,” she said.
Such a “skeleton” of a transit system is needed if the state wants to attract major corporations such as Amazon, she added.
Building more rail is cost prohibitive, she said, so to create an efficient, seamless and regional transit system means relying heavily on buses.
“There would have to be a culture shift on riding buses,” she said. “People don’t like to ride buses … and this is something we have to get on board with.”
Hanson is being challenged by Democrat Matthew Wilson in the November election.