The City Council of Sandy Springs, Georgia at its meeting on August 16, 2016, passed an ordinance amendment to require that certain building construction components, such as structural frame and load bearing walls, be made of noncombustible materials (i.e, not wood) in any structure over three stories and exceeding 100,000 square feet gross floor area. City staff stated as the intent of the proposed amendment to promote increased building quality, sustainability, durability, longevity, revitalization and safety.
Opposition at the meeting came from the wood industry and from the Council for Quality Growth. Those testifying from the perspective of the wood industry argued that the measure shot at rabbits that ain’t been turned loose yet (my term for addressing problems that don’t exist) and would injure the wood and timber industries in Georgia.
The Council for Quality Growth objected that the amendment would significant increase contruction costs, the city’s code already complied with Georgia building requirements, and the city already controlled development patterns through its zoning power.
The council made this decision in a context replete with increasing construction of and research regarding multi-story buildings using engineered wood products throughout. Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Oregon State University recently completed a trial of the technology that showed that reinforced wood framing can be just as robust as conventional building techniques. Benton Johnson, a structural engineer at Skidmore Owings, acknowledged as one of the challenges stringent building codes, which “haven’t evolved at the same rate as technological advancements in building science.”