Developer abandons plan for adding a story to old AT&T building
By Cathi Harris, contributor
Park 108, LLC, the developer converting the old AT&T building at the corner of East Lake Drive and Park Place to condominiums, has revised its plans and will not add a new story to the top of the building as originally planned, an attorney for the developer told the Decatur Planning Commission Tuesday.
The commission voted unanimously to recommend that the Decatur City Commission allow them to revise their existing conditional use permit (CUP), removing references to the additional story, and move forward with the project and construct 34 condominiums in the building’s existing space.
The development drew the ire of some neighbors in March after the builders sought city approval to exceed the building height limit of 40 feet to construct the top level.
Although they met with the adjacent property owners in an effort to reach an agreement about the building’s design they were unable to, attorney Laurel David told the commission.
“It became clear that we were not going to be able to accommodate the reduction in height that they were looking for,” David said. “So we are coming before you today and withdrawing that request.”
The planning commission did not act on a request by the developer to recommend removal of the conditions requiring a percentage of the units be set aside as affordable housing.
The removal of the additional floor while keeping the same number of units will require significant changes to the overall design of the building, David said. The units will be smaller and probably less expensive than what was planned. The affordable housing units were originally slated to be rental units, but now all are planned to be condos, she said. Going forward, it’s unclear how four of them would be set aside as affordable while the others were market rate.
“How much would these units sell for? Who would be able to apply to buy them? [The developer] is not really set up to do that kind of thing,” David told commissioners. “Then, there are Fair Housing Act issues that would arise if you were to deny someone a house.”
Park 108 is working with the Decatur Development Authority (DDA) to look at ways to do this and they will be going before the DDA board at its meeting this Friday get their input as well.
Speaking as a representative of the DDA, Assistant City Manager Lyn Menne said that the board was still committed to making sure this project kept an affordable housing component.
“The board is strongly in support of this project. We think it is a great idea and it is a great way to preserve this building,” Menne said. “However, they do want to maintain the requirement that ten percent of the units be set aside as affordable workforce housing.”
Workforce housing is generally defined as housing that is affordable (consuming no more than 30 percent of monthly income) for people making between 80 and 120 percent of the area median income (AMI). The AMI for metro Atlanta is $74,800.
Setting up a land trust to manage the affordable units – determining eligibility, application process and then establishing covenants that would govern how the property could be sold – would be a possible solution, Menne said.
The Atlanta Land Trust manages housing developments in the City of Atlanta that have affordable housing components.
“It can be done,” she said. “I want to make it clear that we want to work with the developer. We want to be flexible and we want this to be a successful project – but we also want to support affordable housing.”
The commission’s recommendation now goes forward to the Decatur City Commission, which will consider the approval of the development’s changes at its next meeting on Monday, June 17.
In other business, the Planning Commission recommended the City Commission approve a request from the Decatur Housing Authority for a special exception to allow for reconstruction of its legally nonconforming apartment buildings at Swanton Heights in the event that one or more were destroyed during its planned rehabilitation project to start next year.
The DHA is undertaking a complete rehabilitation of the Swanton Heights apartment complex, director Doug Faust told the Planning Commission. In order to finance the renovations, they are using low-income housing tax credits (LIHTC), in which an investor provides financing for the project in return for income tax credits.
“Our investors and our bank want to know that we would be able to rebuild the buildings in the event that something would happen to them,” Faust said. The total cost of the renovations is expected to be around $25 million.
Swanton Heights was constructed in the 1970s when existing city zoning allowed the construction of multifamily housing in that area. A subsequent change to the city’s zoning map, reclassified the area as R-17, a category allowing single-family detached and attached housing, but not multifamily apartments.
Ordinarily, if a legally nonconforming structure were to be demolished or destroyed, any new structure would have to meet existing zoning requirements, which would mean an apartment building could not be built in that location.
The Planning Commission unanimously voted to recommend granting the special exception, noting that it would just allow replacing what was already there, would support maintaining affordable housing in the downtown core, and would not adversely affect the adjoining properties.
The City Commission will also consider final approval for this exception at its meeting on June 17.