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Decatur Planning Commission recommends exception for senior housing near Avondale MARTA

Avondale Estates Decatur

Decatur Planning Commission recommends exception for senior housing near Avondale MARTA

Artist's rendering of the planned Phase II of Columbia Senior Residences at Decatur East. Credit: City of Decatur.

By Cathi Harris, contributor 

Decatur, GA — At its meeting on Tuesday, the Decatur Planning Commission recommended approval of a developer’s request for a design exception for a planned 80-unit senior housing development to be built near the Avondale MARTA station.

Affordable housing developer Columbia Residential is partnering with the Decatur Housing Authority to construct Phase II of Columbia Senior Residences at Decatur East at the corner of Freeman and Sams Streets.

All 80 units will be for residents aged 62 and over; and 70 units will be reserved for those with annual incomes at 60 percent of the area median income (AMI) or lower. Of the 70, 24 will be reserved for seniors with very low annual incomes, said Christina Davis, development manager with Columbia Residential.

“This development will provide high quality construction and affordable transit-oriented housing in a really key development that will benefit both the residents and the general welfare of the city,” she said. 

To accomplish that, however, Columbia needs an exception to the Decatur’s requirement that all buildings above 50 feet in this zoning district have the portion of the building that is above the height limit stepped back 10 feet from the front of the facade.

The height of the building once constructed will be an average height of 54 feet from ground level. Due to the slope of the land, some of the building is within the height limit while the other side’s height is 59 feet above grade at the highest point, she said.

Stepping back the top of the building for less than 10 feet in height will significantly constrain the number of units that can be built, since the step back will limit the total floor area. It would also create strange room shapes and make it difficult to construct desired amenities like meeting rooms and an interior courtyard.

Instead, Columbia wants to step the entire building back from its property line by 10 feet. This will meet the design requirement’s intent, which is to preserve a pleasant pedestrian experience and not have extremely tall buildings limiting the view, she said.

Stepping back the entire building will allow a more uniform footprint for constructing livable units. At the same time, it also allows more space at street level to have a buffer between the street and pedestrians. 

“We will have more of a greenspace area and some street level parking that will provide a buffer between the sidewalk and traffic, which makes that pedestrian experience better,” she said. “This is also designated, I believe, one of the Safe Routes to School. Having that extra space at ground level, instead of 50 feet in the air, makes it much more pleasant.”

Other apartment buildings in the immediate area are of similar height and also do not have the stepbacks above 50 feet, either, she added. 

Planning commissioners uniformly agreed with her argument, voting unanimously to recommend that the exception be granted. “I think this is definitely something we can support, especially considering the way that you plan to activate the pedestrian space at ground level,” said commission member Lori Leland-Kirk.

The vote was 5-0, with Vice Chair Mike Travis abstaining and Chair Harold Buckley absent from this meeting. The request will move to the Decatur City Commission for final approval at its next meeting on Monday, November 15 at 7:30 p.m.

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