There have been several recent reports on an action taken by a Georgia community to ban wood construction in buildings more than three stories in height and larger than 100,000 square feet, an action that unfortunately had no basis in concerns for safety or the environment.
The community of Sandy Springs took this action under the guise of building safety but it had nothing to do with safety and everything to do with limiting development. During the meeting where final action was taken, there was no mention or demonstration of actual concerns over building safety or longevity. There was no discussion of performance of various construction materials. Just a few minutes were allowed the American Wood Council and others to explain to deaf ears why the proposed action made no sense for either safety, longevity or the environment. Information sent earlier to the city directly addressing what now appear to be, at best, surrogate reasons for their action were totally ignored in a process that appears to have been predetermined. The city’s decision lacks any substantive technical basis and can be seen for what it is – simply a means to slow-down growth and development.
We have seen similar attempts before, notably for the same reasons -- jurisdictions wanting to slow development using the artifice of building safety to attack the most economical methods of building. In jurisdictions like Sandy Springs, where Georgia law requires the municipality to have a reason to depart from the state building code related to health or safety, municipal leaders will, in the face of countervailing evidence, make statements and claims that are just not factually correct. Wood, as the most popular construction material, is then made to suffer reduced market opportunities without substantiation or justification. Decisions like this often come back to haunt the very jurisdiction with reduced tax bases that result in higher taxes, much higher construction costs resulting from decreased supply, and in this case, significantly increased environmental impacts.
It does not make sense to prohibit development and use of wood construction when state-of-the-art building codes mandate and support its safe and resilient use and it has lower environmental impacts than fossil-fuel intensive construction products that will be substituted for it. And, the importance of the industry to the state of Georgia cannot be understated. The wood products industry employs almost 18,000 people in Georgia with an annual payroll approaching $880 million. Take away wood and you take away those jobs, maybe even from people who live in Sandy Springs.
President & CEO
American Wood Council