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Decatur City Commission adds housing flexibility to unified development ordinance

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Decatur City Commission adds housing flexibility to unified development ordinance

FILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES. The Decatur City Commission met on Monday, Oct. 4, to discuss violations of the city's health and sanitation ordinance at the property of 2284 Ferndale Drive. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission has amended the city’s unified development ordinance to make it easier to develop cottage court building types and allow accessory dwelling units in the RS-17 single-family zoning designation.

These amendments were part of the Affordable Housing Task Force report and is also now an action item in the strategic plan.

The cottage court building type was introduced as part of the unified development ordinance in 2014 in an effort to diversify the housing stock and encourage the development of small, more affordable homes, Threadgill wrote in a memo. However, no private developers have carried out a cottage court development in favor of townhomes.

“With these text amendments we are trying to level the playing field so the financial return, rate of return is something closer to what developers are seeing for townhomes,” Threadgill said. “But at the same time, a lot developers that I speak with recognize that townhomes are not necessarily what the community wants to see anymore. They want to see different building types. They are interested in doing cottage courts, but there needs to be a little bit more flexibility so that they can get a closer financial return to what they would typically develop.”

The changes related to cottage court developments in the UDO would increase the types of lots that are eligible to have cottage courts on them, and allow more but slightly smaller cottages to be built, Threadgill said.

“The proposed text amendments seek to do four things,” Threadgill said. “First, it should provide more flexibility in the lot dimensions on which a cottage court is allowed, similar to what’s provided or allowed for other types of housing.”

Previously, the minimum lot width and depth was 150 feet and the width was changed to 50 feet to be comparable and flexible to what’s allowed for townhomes and other building types.

“Right now, that larger lot size, there are very few lots that actually meet those dimensions. We want to give a little bit more flexible to allow this building type,” Threadgill said. “The second goal is to provide more flexibility in the unit density of a cottage court, similar to what’s provided for other building types, such as townhomes.”

The city’s Department of Community and Economic Development also recommended removing the development maximum of nine and let the overall zoning category the lot is in set the maximum number of units each site could have.

“The third goal is to reduce the allowable floor area for the cottage court units to promote the production of smaller, more attainable or affordable homes,” Threadgill said.

The floor area was reduced from 1,800 square feet to 1,500 square feet. The fourth goal was to allow the carriage house building type within the RS-17 zoning district and accessory dwelling units as a limited use in the RS-17 zoning district.

“What we have learned is that accessory dwelling units are allowed in every other residential zoning district other than RS-17,” Threadgill said. “RS-17 allows for detached single-family homes, but those property owners are not allowed to have accessory dwelling units.”

Accessory dwelling units can now be constructed on the site of a single-family home that are in RS-17 zoning districts, as they are already allowed in the R-85, R-60 and R-50 districts. Accessory dwelling units would be allowed on the same lots as condominiums or townhomes. There are about 55 detached single-family homes that are in RS-17 districts, Threadgill previously said.

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