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Decatur plans to revive stalled cottage court development

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Decatur plans to revive stalled cottage court development

This pocket neighborhood in Langley, Washington is an example of a cottage court housing design. Photo obtained via Wikimedia Commons. https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Highlands_langley_pocket_neighborhood.jpg
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By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — The City of Decatur is exploring options to re-start work on its planned cottage court housing development at 230 Commerce Drive.

The project was originally announced in 2016, but bogged down in negotiations with the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) over the design of the entrance off Commerce, which is a state highway. 

Skyrocketing construction costs have also delayed the plans due to the city’s goal of keeping the homes affordable at less than $250,000.

“The price per square foot for new construction is just incredible right now,” Angela Threadgill, Decatur’s director of planning and economic development, told the City Commision on Tuesday. “And this is a completely vacant parcel, with no improvements whatsoever, so the site development costs [alone] are very expensive.”

The Decatur Downtown Development Authority (DDA) is in talks with a nonprofit affordable housing developer with experience developing affordable housing in the City of Atlanta, she added. Such a developer would make a good partner in getting this project off the ground and ensuring the city is able to secure appropriate financing and keep the units affordable.

The cottage court housing style is a group of small, detached homes centered around a shared courtyard. The Decatur project is slated to include between four and six houses with sizes ranging between 700 and 1,200 square feet.

“We are saying 4-to-6 now, because we may offer two homes at market rates in order to offset the cost of construction of the affordable homes,” Threadgill said.

The cottage court discussion was part of an overall update on affordable housing provided by Threadgill and Decatur’s Affordable Housing Fellow Kristin Allin during a City Commission work session held immediately before its regular meeting Tuesday night.

In addition to the cottage court project, the city also expects to see new units of affordable housing soon in three other developments inside the city.

The 108 Park Place development in the former AT&T training center in Oakhurst will have three units of the total 34 reserved for affordable housing. The planned Northwood Ravin redevelopment of East Decatur Station is expected to include 40 new units of dedicated affordable housing. There are also 100 units of affordable senior living units planned in phases III and IV of the Avondale MARTA station transit-oriented development (TOD).

“The Avondale TOD is owned by MARTA, which entered into an agreement with Columbia Residential to provide senior units,” Threadgill said. “It is above and beyond the required [inclusionary zoning] set aside. It is 100 percent affordable units for seniors, in addition to the earlier phase II that included 92 units that were affordable senior housing there.”

The city has made several strides in the past year toward its goal of supporting more affordable housing, Allin said during her presentation.

The city successfully adopted an inclusionary zoning ordinance, established a full-time city position dedicated to affordable housing, and started the process of renewing the S4 senior homestead exemption.

In the coming year, Allin said she hopes the city will be able to amend the UDO again to allow duplexes, triplexes and fourplex housing in RS-17 zoned districts in the city, as well as establish the Decatur Land Trust as a stand-alone nonprofit.

“The Decatur Land Trust has potential to be one of the most important affordable housing tools we have,” Allin told the commission. “Right now, it is under the Legacy Project, but I want to start the process of moving it out to be its own entity.”

Through the land trust, Decatur will be able to acquire property through purchase or donation and facilitate the development or preservation of affordable housing. It will also be the entity that maintains the ground leases for the individual affordable units that are developed throughout the city, to keep them affordable over time as they are re-sold or rented.

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