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Several cities affected by the state legislature’s recent passage of a bill that would erase restrictions on wood-frame apartments are set to meet Wednesday to determine ways, including a potential lawsuit, to stop the bill from going into effect, according to Dunwoody Mayor Denis Shortal.
Representatives from Dunwoody, Sandy Springs, Chamblee, Tucker, Carrollton and Peachtree Corners are set to meet Wednesday at 3:30 p.m., Shortal said following the Dunwoody City Council’s March 26 meeting. The location of the meeting will likely be in Sandy Springs, he said.
“It’s a meeting with mayors to discuss [House Bill] 876,” Shortal said. “We’re going to discuss coming up with a common plan … to seek out what we think we can do and possibly what we can’t do” to stop the bill.
The Dunwoody City Council also voted unanimously at the meeting to approve a resolution asking Gov. Nathan Deal to veto the bill.
“HB-876 recently passed by the Georgia General Assembly, would completely remove the city of Dunwoody’s common sense ability of local control to set its own safety standards and will jeopardize the safety and lives of our citizens living and working in densely populated areas of our city and thus the city of Dunwoody opposes HB-876,” the resolution reads in part.
On the need for the resolution, Shortal said the state should be able to set minimum standards, but shouldn’t prevent cities or other municipalities setting more stringent standards.
“I do think it’s a safety issue. It’s about life safety and quality of standards … and it boils down to local control,” he said. “We became a city on that premise.”
Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul and Shortal have been outspoken against the bill, saying the General Assembly is stripping away local control.
In 2014, Dunwoody passed an ordinance prohibiting multi-family housing over three stories tall be built from concrete and steel rather than wood for fire safety and quality reasons. Sandy Springs approved a similar ordinance in 2016 that was heavily opposed by the timber industry.
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), who voted against the bill, said after the legislature’s approval that he did not think Deal would veto the bill. He also suggested the cities might have to bring a lawsuit against the state challenging HB 876’s constitutionality.
“I would imagine it [a lawsuit] is going to come up, but I hope that’s not the first line we’re going to attempt,” Shortal said. “Right now I’m one person, and until we come out with a common plan we feel we have to correct an injustice … we’ll probably include everything. I’m sure people have ideas I don’t have.”
Shortal also noted Millar’s attempt to amend HB 876 to exclude cities that already have restrictions on wood-frame apartments failed by seven votes.
Councilmember Terry Nall said at the council meeting before voting on the resolution asking Deal to veto HB 876 that the city should be willing to take “any and all actions” to stop the bill.
“This is the ultimate battle between metro Atlanta versus non metro Georgia,” Nall said.
A lone person spoke during public comment at the council meeting against Dunwoody’s opposition to the state bill. Lon Sibert of Sandy Springs, president of Renewable Resource Associates, said Dunwoody and other cities had a “‘Flintstonian’ attitude about wood construction.”
“In a nutshell, it is wrong and unfair to the citizens of Dunwoody and to the producers of lumber to mischaracterize wood and lumber as being inferior, unsafe and not suitable for very good, safe and long-term structures above three stories,” Sibert said. In a brief interview, Sibert said he was not a lobbyist and was speaking out on his own accord.
Mayor Paul also mentioned a potential lawsuit at a recent Sandy Springs City Council meeting, saying he had been contacted by mayors from other cities asking him if Sandy Springs was looking for partners in a lawsuit.
State Rep. John Corbett (R-Lake Park), who sponsored HB 876, said the timber industry was influential in its creation. The bill says that “no county or municipality shall prohibit the use of wood as a construction material so long as such use conforms to all applicable state minimum standard codes and the Georgia State Fire Code.” Existing laws to that effect would be repealed.