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Owners: Tent business could sag with permits
Necessity of proposed requirements questioned
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Forsyth County News

Requiring inspections and permits for setting up large event tents is overkill, in the eyes of one local businessman.

David Sexton, owner of Tents Over Georgia, spoke out against adding the state requirements for tents to a local law during a Forsyth County commission meeting Thursday.

The commission held the first of two public hearings on proposed revisions to the county’s fire safety and prevention ordinance, most of which adopt required state minimum standards into the code.

Some county changes require new businesses to add exterior electrical disconnection systems and key boxes for emergency access.

The code also adopts state minimum standards, such as increasing the minimum distance between fire hydrants, specifying fire flow requirements for commercial or high density residential uses and issuing permits for additional structures.

The state requires counties with a population greater than 100,000 to follow those standards.

The permitting of enclosed tents or canopies larger than 200 square feet is another one of the requirements set by the state.

It’s also the one that’s got drew the most attention from commissioners and business owners.

Sexton said one-third to half of his business comes from people who need a tent set up immediately due to bad weather rolling in or other circumstances.

If the company has to wait for an inspector from the fire department, he said that customer’s business could be lost. In addition, the $100 permitting fee likely would be passed on to those renting large tents.

Sexton said the millions his business carries in insurance and the certification required for employees who set up the tents should be sufficient.

“This is going to hurt business and burden the county,” he said.

His concerns were echoed by William Flynn, owner of the local company Tents, Tents, Tents.

Flynn was concerned that county inspectors wouldn’t be able to keep up with the quickness of tent setup or the volume of business.

The Forsyth County Fire Department has five inspectors, and they are already issuing permits for other structures on the weekends, said Division Chief Barry Head.

He added that other jurisdictions have tent permitting, including Cobb, Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, as well as the cities of Cumming, Sandy Springs and Woodstock.

Tents set up for commercial functions or at event facilities are included in the statute, but it exempts tents for private use at a home.

Head said that as the department hand-delivered letters about the changes to local tent companies, one owner commented that it was surprising the county didn’t already inspect tents, noting that banner signs require a permit.

Commissioner Cindy Jones Mills agreed with Sexton about the potential impact, calling it a “no win” situation.

Eventually, the increased workload may require more inspectors, and the businesses will be hurt by the increased costs and wait time, she said.

She asked whether the county had the ability not to adopt a section of the state minimum standards.

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said he would research the matter and return with an answer by the next public hearing, set for Oct. 3.

The commission would be able to take a vote after the second hearing.