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Decatur Planning Commission recommends approval of permit for Legacy Park affordable housing

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Decatur Planning Commission recommends approval of permit for Legacy Park affordable housing

The city of Decatur had board's up at the South Housing Village open house on Feb. 28, 2022 showing the plan for the project. This board shows the area of trees that will be preserved. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA – The Decatur Planning Commission on Aug. 9 gathered for its regular meeting for the first time since March 8.

The Planning Commission recommended approval of a conditional use permit that would allow for the development of affordable housing at Legacy Park, formerly known as the United Methodist Children’s home. 

If the city commission approves the conditional use permit, the property would allow multifamily dwelling units in an I-Institutional zoning district.  

The property is located at 700-722 South Columbia Drive. The project has been known as the South Housing Village, but has a new name: The Village at Legacy.

Decatur Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill was present at the meeting, serving as the applicant and representing her department.

“The city of Decatur is the owner of the property located at 700-722 South Columbia Drive…we are requesting a recommendation of approval with conditions,” Threadgill said.

The application is about 46 pages long, so Threadgill went through it and highlighted some major details:

– The development site is approximately 6 acres and is part of the 77-acre Legacy Park.

– The larger portion of Legacy Park continues to be owned by the Public Facilities Authority, but this acreage for The Village At Legacy is separated from that.

– The city has partnered with the Decatur Housing Authority for an affordable housing development that will result in 132 units.

“The purpose of the review today is when we look at our land use table, multifamily residential uses as well as duplexes or two-family residential uses require a conditional use permit,” Threadgill said. “So, that’s why it’s before you all for a recommendation. Pending your recommendation, it will continue on to the city commission as early as next Monday for final action after their public hearing.”

She also mentioned two written public comments, and both are related to preserving the tree save area, which is along the South Columbia Drive frontage.

Given these comments, Threadgill said that she wanted to honor them in the draft conditional use permit ordinance, including this design component:

The existing tree canopy cover from trees in fair or better-rated condition illustrated as a Tree Save Area along South Columbia Drive shall be protected to the greatest extent possible; no disturbance or removal of existing protected trees shall be permitted without the written permission of the City Arborist in the form of an approved Tree Conservation Plan or Tree Removal Permit.

Following Threadgill’s presentation of the application, Executive Director of the Decatur Housing Authority Doug Faust thanked the planning commission for their consideration of the application and the city’s work on the ground lease.

“This is an important project. We’re looking forward to creating a great community here,” he said. “We have worked hard on the design…We think our layout matches the Master Plan in a very artful way and a thoughtful way. We did recognize the tree save area. That’s very important to us. That’s going to be a nice recreational area for children. And so, we put together what we think is a good strategy on how to get affordable housing into Decatur.”

Mary Gould spoke during the meeting. She’s lived in the City of Decatur for 40 years.

“My heart will always be in Decatur. For several years now, many of us have felt passionately about the need for affordable housing in Decatur,” she said. “This first became apparent to me when I was teaching ESL in Clarkston. Some of my students moved into the city of Decatur. They were doing so well – some of my kids were placed in gifted. They wanted to buy a house, but it just wasn’t possible, so they’re now in Lawrenceville. That’s what first got me started. Now that we have this wonderful opportunity at Legacy Park, I would like to see us go over the finish line. I feel like we’re almost there. Thank you so much for all of your work.”

After a motion, the Planning Commission recommended that the City Commission approve the application with the conditions as shown in the draft ordinance.

‘Missing middle’ housing

Following the recommendation on the application, Threadgill introduced Kristin Allin, a planner for the city of Decatur. 

“She has been working diligently on missing middle housing policy,” Threadgill said.

Allin presented an informational PowerPoint on missing middle housing, proposing text amendments to Article 2, Article 3, Article 6, Article 7 and Article 12 of the Unified Development Ordinance (UDO).

“Missing middle” is a term that’s used for duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes – it’s the type of housing that’s in between a single-family home and a large apartment building. Missing middle housing cannot be built in Decatur, disallowed in 1988.

“Communities go through stages. So, Decatur, maybe at that point, was at a stage where there were some distressed properties that needed some stabilizing and revitalizing, and that’s what’s happened over the years,” Allin said.

“But we’ve kind of gotten to a trajectory…where we’ve gone past that to more of a gentrifying area where people at different stages of life aren’t necessarily finding the housing that they need.”

Allin walked the commission through Decatur’s trajectory, highlighting what’s gone up and down between 2000 and 2020.

Here’s some of what’s gone up: number of single family homes and downtown apartments; homes with four or more bedrooms; and household incomes $100,000 and above.

And here’s some of what’s gone down: one, two, and three bedroom homes; percentage of Black and Hispanic homeowners; residents between 20 and 34 years old; and number of households at every income under $100,000.

In 2020, a National Citizen Survey reported that Decatur scored 21% for availability of quality of affordable housing. That same year, the Affordable Housing Task Force was created to recommend changes, which were then incorporated into the 2020 Strategic Plan.

“This past Strategic Plan in 2020, the community really came out and said, We’ve got the quality of life, but we’ve lost a lot of other things. We’ve lost a lot of our diversity…’,” Allin said. “The vision really shifted in this last Strategic Plan to a more inclusive and equitable vision.”

Moving forward, the city is working on public engagement and public hearings with the Planning Commission and the City Commission.

Next week, they’re hosting a missing middle forum on Aug. 17 via Zoom. All are welcome to submit questions prior to the forum for the panel to answer. Sign up for the forum here: http://www.decaturga.com/affordablehousing.

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