SB 104 that changed comprehensive plan rules: good or bad?

The Georgia legislature overwhelmingly passed a rather brief bill that changes the requirements for Comprehensive Plans by local governments. ACCG and GMA both supported it. It seems to be related to recent Department of Community Affairs (DCA) rulemaking that was mostly positive. Does that make it a good law? Opinions seem to differ. Here’s what I’ve found.

The Bill: SB 104

Here’s the bill and its synopsis, 2013-2014 Regular Session – SB 104: Community Affairs, Dept of; comprehensive plans of local government; revise the minimum elements,

A BILL to be entitled an Act to amend Chapter 8 of Title 50 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated, relating to the Department of Community Affairs, so as to revise the minimum elements addressed and included in comprehensive plans of local governments; to remove the requirement for certain findings with regard to projects of regional importance or impact; to remove certain limitations on actions by counties or municipalities with regard to local plans; to provide for related matters; to repeal conflicting laws; and for other purposes.

It removes this language from O.C.G.A. 50-8-7.1(b)(1) regarding minimum standards and procedures for DCA to set minimum elements for local governments:

These elements shall include, but shall not be limited to, housing, human services, natural resources, the environment, vital areas, historic and cultural resources, infrastructure, land use other than zoning, recreation, transportation, and economic development;

It adds this to O.C.G.A. 50-8-7.1(d)(3) regarding “rules and procedures which require that local governments submit for review any proposed action which would, based upon guidelines which the department may establish, affect regionally important resources or further any development of regional impact.”

A report shall be prepared and submitted to the regional commission council, including potential impacts of the proposed development of regional impact. The report shall be made available to the local governments in the region and on the website of the regional commission.

That seems like a good idea. However, the bill removes from the same section this sentence:

The review shall result in a public finding by the regional commission or the department, as the case may be, that the action will be in the best interest of the region and state or that it will not be in the best interest of the region and state;

And that’s it: that’s all the bill does.

Georgia Municipal Association (GMA)

GMA supported SB 104, and the writeup by Marcia Rubensohn says:

This legislation contains three provisions:
(1) Language dealing with the required minimum planning elements are now addressed in DCA’s Planning Standards via rule;
(2) Removal of the requirement that the regional commission make a recommendation of whether a large-scale project should be approved; and
(3) Eliminates language that prohibited a local government from taking any action to adopt the plan or take steps to implement the plan before the regional commission or state reviews the plan.

A clue in (3) indicates that DCA’s rulemaking now deals with the at least the first sentence removed from O.C.G.A. Why are (2) and (3) good ideas? If the local government can just go ahead and the regional commission never has to even say whether the action is a good idea, what’s the point of sending a report to the regional commission?

Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG)

ACCG’s Staff Analysis of the Legislation is a bit more forthcoming than GMA’s:

This legislation results from a two-year stakeholder process whereby ACCG, GMA and others partnered on the Department of Community Affairs’ Planning Rules Task force to revise Georgia’s comprehensive planning requirements on local governments. While, to the credit of DCA, most of the task force’s recommendations have been achieved via its rulemaking process, three changes in statute were necessary. This legislation covers these necessary changes by:

  • making housing, human services, natural resources, vital areas, historic and cultural resources, infrastructure, recreation and other components of a comprehensive plan optional to the local government;
  • not requiring Regional Commissions (RC) to issue a public finding on whether a development of regional impact is in the best interest of the region or state; and
  • changing deadlines on when a local government must adopt a comprehensive plan and submit it to their RC.
For a detailed summary of all the Comprehensive Planning changes promulgated by DCA, click here.

For a PowerPoint presentation of the changes, click here.

ACCG’s take on the first change doesn’t say it’s actually covered by DCA rulemaking; it just says the bill removes the requirement for local governments to cover a wide variety of what look to me like important topics. ACCG’s comments on the other two points are also less informative than GMA’s. But let’s follow ACCG’s links, both of which go to DCA.

Department of Community Affairs (DCA)

ACCG’s first link goes to Synopsis of Revised Changes to DCA’s Minimum Standards for Local Comprehensive Planning. Gretchen went to a 7 February 2013 presentation on that by our Southern Georgia Regional Commission and we posted videos. Among other changes, local governments are now required to update their Comprehensive Plans every five years (used to be every ten years). I think that’s a good thing.

What do you think about that and other changes in the new DCA rules and the O.C.G.A. changes in SB 104?