City ordinance raises issues for builders, homebuyers

Brett Pearson, owner of Square Peg Construction, wants the City of Dahlonega to change its ordinance restricting modular homes from being built in single-family residential (R1) areas of the city.

"I had someone interested in having a modular home built in the city. I just think this restriction limits people's choices of construction, and my ability to build the homes people want," Pearson says, "so I brought it before the city planning and zoning board."
Dahlonega City Council heard the request June 12. Its members agreed that the city should probably not be completely pre-emptive when it comes to modular homes in R1.

It isn't the first time someone has requested to have a modular home built in R1, says planning director Chris Head.

"We had another request about a month ago to put one in Sky Country. He just couldn't believe they're not allowed," she says. "He said in Europe 80-to-90 percent of homes are modular."

And modular - or industrialized modular homes - are the coming thing, say both Pearson and Grant Smereczynsky, owner of Building Systems Network. Smereczynsky appeared before the planning and zoning board with Pearson in May. He is an award winning modular homebuilder and well respected in the industry for his commitment and contributions to the industry.

"With the shift toward environmentally friendly green construction," Pearson says, "we'll see more and more people wanting to build modular homes. It's possible in the next 10-to-20 years there will be a high demand for them."

Smerecynsky doesn't call the product his company produces a modular home without adding "industrialized" to the name.

"People confuse modular with manufactured housing - mobile homes - and that's not what it is," he says. "That perception is 100 percent inaccurate. Industrialized modular homes are built to the same building codes as traditional site-built housing. They are required to bear the DCA [Department of Community Affairs] insignia for adherence to codes and quality standards in production. They are constructed from the same materials, and they are built indoors in a factory, out of the weather and have superior quality control with over 300 inspections done during the construction process. The only difference is, they are put together on the site. Once they are finished, you can't tell the difference from a site-built house."

They are not valued any differently for tax purposes, says Lumpkin County Chief Tax Appraiser Don Head.

"I don't know why you would. It's the same material that's used in a stick built house," he says.

Industrialized modular homes are not treated any differently by lenders, as long as they meet a list of six criteria, says certified mortgage officer for BB&T Angie Bennett.

"We have a big long list of things we have to do if it's a manufactured home, but not if it's a modular home," Bennett says "A modular home is processed the same and has the same rate as a stick-built."

Industrialized modular homes are not one-size-fits-all. They can be built to any specifications or size, and any amenity can be included. The home is built in a factory while the slab is readied on-site to receive it. Because the foundation is being laid as the home is being built, overall construction time is usually cut. The home is shipped in units on flatbed trucks to the site, then assembled.

Because the units must be shipped by truck and withstand transport from factory to site, they are built with 20-to-30 percent more materials than stick-built homes, making them a better product, Pearson says.

"They're stronger and safer. FEMA [Federal Emergency Management Agency] issued a report after Hurricane Andrew that said industrial homes faired better than stick built houses," he says.

Industrialized modular homes are built to state construction standards. The Georgia's Industrialized Building Act of 1982 set up a method for manufacturers of modular housing to be inspected by independent private engineers and construction experts, since it is impossible for local inspectors to visit the manufacturing plants to conduct inspections. An approved building is deemed to comply with all local ordinances and laws relating to its construction.

In fact, says Smerecynsky, the state of Georgia prohibits local governments from restricting industrialized homes from being constructed in any zoning district based solely on the fact it is not site-built.

"Dahlonega needs to quickly get in touch with reality," he says. "It must get compliant with state law or open the flood gates to litigation - not just from me. It's a Constitutional issue concerning interstate commerce."

City attorney Doug Parks said changes reflecting more "positive" language about modular homes would be made and the ordinance would be brought back to council to look at during a future work session.

By Sharon Hall

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