Coweta County will be delaying a plan require homebuilders to have grass established in the backyard of new homes before a certificate of occupancy can be issued.
Under state soil erosion and sedimentation rules, all land that was “disturbed” by grading must be stabilized by the establishment of permanent grass before a land disturbance permit can be terminated.
In common practice in Coweta, builders will lay sod in the front yard of a home, but the back yard will just be seeded and straw laid down “almost the day of the CO or just prior to it,” said Tod Handley, Coweta’s director of transportation and engineering, at Tuesday’s meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
That doesn’t meet the requirements of the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, Handley said, which requires “final stabilization.”
Final stabilization is defined as 100 percent of the land that is not building, landscaping or driveway being stabilized to a 70 percent density with a permanent grass. Annual grass such as millet or wheat doesn’t count, Handley said.
In July, Coweta County did away with its own building inspectors and began contracting with inspection firm SafeBuilt. SafeBuilt inspectors do not oversee erosion control, so a development inspector position was added to the engineering department.
When inspectors from the engineering department started doing the erosion control inspections, they noticed that there were some builders who weren’t getting grass established before certificates of occupancy were issued.
That could lead to a situation where new homeowners are stuck with backyard grass that doesn’t grow properly. The builder can’t come in and do anything about it because the builder no longer owns the property.
So the department planned to start enforcing the state regulations for final stabilization starting Oct. 1.
Commissioner Rodney Brooks, who works in the construction industry, said he’s been getting calls from builders and developers who are concerned about the proposal.
“It has caused some heartache. The builders said this is too soon,” Handley said. “Right now we’re still allowing COs to be issued with seed and straw that doesn’t meet the definition of final stabilization under the county’s general permit.”
Before a tract of land larger than an acre can be graded, a “notice of intent” for land disturbance must be filed. Once the land disturbance is complete and final stabilization is achieved, a notice of termination is filed.
Brooks said one suggestion made by builders was to have an affidavit ready at closing that would assign the notice of intent to the new homeowner. The homeowner would then have to submit the notice of termination.
At closing, homebuyers are signing so many documents, and the average person “doesn’t have any idea what they’re signing,” Brooks said. “I don’t think the solution to this is putting it off on the homeowner.”
Brooks also wondered what would happen in the winter, when it’s hard to get grass established.
The yard could be sodded, Handley said, or fescue, which will sprout in the winter, could be planted. Sod qualifies as permanent stabilization.
Brooks said he has contacted State Sen. Matt Brass, R-Newnan, to find out more about the state requirements.
Handley said that builders could put sod in the backyard – or simply plant the grass a few weeks earlier.
“We’ve recommended – don’t wait until two days before you want a CO inspection to try to get the grass growing. You know this is coming… go ahead and get that area prepped, seed it and get some grass growing during the time that you are working on the house itself.”
Brooks said he would like to postpone enforcement until Coweta can get some feedback from the state and check and can see what other jurisdictions are doing.
“I don’t know of anybody in the state that is going to be doing enforcement the way we’re going to start come Oct. 1,” Brooks said.
Handley said in the past, his department has gotten a lot of complaints about erosion from lots where the backyard is not stabilized. “We’ll get a heavy rain and it will wash onto the neighbor,” Handley said. “We call the homeowner and they say, well this is what the builder did.”
They’ll then call the builder and the builder will say the homeowner didn’t water the grass or properly take care of it.
“It’s not a good situation for us,” Handley said. “What we would like to see is some effort put towards establishing grass.”
Typically a lot stays bare dirt for most of the time a house is being built, with efforts to stabilize it only starting a few weeks before the house is completed.
Commissioner Paul Poole said he has a co-worker who is having that problem and “nobody wants to really address this.”
Brooks said if the county required sod in the backyard of every house, it would add around $5,000 to the cost of a new home.
Handley said he talked to somebody at the Georgia Environmental Protection Division about the suggestion that the new homeowner take over the land disturbance permit.
The EPD employee said, “Tell that homeowner to run and not sign that thing,” Handley said.
Poole said he’s concerned about saddling homeowners with backyards that don’t have good grass because “it probably took everything they’ve got to buy that house. They probably aren’t going to have any money to fix the yard.”
“If you know two months in advance that you had to have a stabilized backyard, you're going to want to seed it, straw it and it would be ready two months from now, from spring until fall,” said Commissioner Tim Lassetter. He is concerned about the situation in the winter months.
Brooks said he doesn’t think the county should have to hold the builders’ hands. “As long as we’re out there to see the ground covered during the whole process, I think we’re fine as a county.”
The commissioners voted unanimously to delay enforcement and gather more information.