Georgia Sen. John Wilkinson

ATLANTA – Legislation that could clear the way for developers in Georgia to construct mid-rise office buildings made mostly of wood gained final passage in the General Assembly Tuesday.

The state Senate unanimously approved a bill asking the state Department of Community Affairs (DCA) to review a provision in the International Building Code that allows buildings constructed of “mass timber” to rise as high as 18 stories and recommend whether Georgia should adopt it. The state building code limits wood office buildings to six stories.

Only four Western states – Oregon, Washington, Montana and Utah – have adopted the new provision for their states, Senate Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee Chairman John Wilkinson, R-Toccoa, told his Senate colleagues Tuesday.

Wilkinson pitched the bill as a potential boost to Georgia’s timber industry, which already leads the nation in a number of categories. Forestry generates an annual economic impact of $36.3 billion and is Georgia’s second largest industry, accounting for 148,414 direct and indirect jobs, according to the Georgia Forestry Association.

“This will help the forestry industry, which is so important to our state,” Wilkinson said.

Mass timber has yet to make significant inroads in Georgia. Some cities have passed ordinances in recent years limiting the height of buildings made of wood, but the General Assembly passed a bill in 2018 prohibiting local governments from imposing height restrictions below what the state building code allows.

Wilkinson said the legislation would expedite the DCA’s review of the International Building Code provision on mass timber. It calls for the agency to begin its review this summer and complete its work by July 1, 2021.

Georgia Rep. John Corbett, R-Lake Park, introduced the legislation into the House of Representatives, which passed it unanimously in February.

It now heads to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.