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City of Decatur looking to address missing middle housing options


City of Decatur looking to address missing middle housing options

Decatur City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Decatur, GA — The city of Decatur is getting closer to re-allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in single family residential areas with the hope of bringing more affordable housing to the city.

The city will host two public hearings this month to discuss the city’s housing affordability recommendations for missing middle housing.

The Decatur Planning Commission will hold a public hearing on Oct. 11 at 7 p.m. and the city commission will hold a public hearing on Oct. 17 at 7:30 p.m. The city commission will discuss the missing middle housing recommendations on Jan. 17 and Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. All the meetings will take place at Decatur City Hall, 509 N. McDonough Street.

There are some duplexes, triplexes, quadplexes and small apartment buildings throughout the city, but the housing type was gradually disallowed in single-family neighborhoods, with duplexes, being the last housing type to be disallowed in 1988.

The housing types were disallowed in 1988 due to absentee ownership, Allin said at the May 2 Decatur City Commission meeting.

Currently, new duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes cannot be built and homes cannot be converted into these types of housing within the city. Single-family homes are the only housing type allowed in residential zoning and 67% of the city is single-family zoning, Allin previously said.

The city is considering two proposals:

1. To allow construction of and conversion to duplexes (2-units) and walk up flats (3-4 units) in R-50, R-60, R-85, and RS-17 zoning districts by limited use, and to comply with same size and setback requirements of detached homes.

2. To require parking compliance of 1 space per dwelling unit – as is currently required for detached homes – and to allow up to 50% of parking to for duplexes (2-units) and walk up flats (3-4 units) to be on-street parking, so long as frontage space meets requirements, and on-street parking is allowed.

The proposals came from a recommendation from the Affordable Housing Task Force, which was incorporated into the city’s 2020 strategic plan.

City Planner Kristin Allin told Decaturish that the task force researched this type of housing, looked at other cities, and felt like it was a good recommendation for the city. One thing that could be impactful as far as nonprofits and mission-driven developers to add smaller units is the units would be at smaller price points than a single-family home, she added.

“Basically it boils down to two proposals,” Allin said. “One is all the text amendments around allowing a two-, three- or four-unit building in a single family neighborhood, as long as it conforms to the same requirements as a single family home.”

If a home were to be converted to a duplex, triplex or quadplex, it would still have to meet the same setback and height requirements of a single-family home. Any new construction of this housing type would have to conform to the regulations of a single-family home, Allin said.

For example, if a duplex were built, it would have to have at least one door facing the street, like a single-family home, and then the other door could face the side or rear of the building.

The buildings would still have to look like a single-family home from the outside “to ensure the fit of these buildings within the traditional development patterns of existing single-family neighborhoods,” Allin wrote in a memo to the planning commission.

The second proposal would allow 50% of the parking to be on the street in front of a multi-unit building if there’s enough curb frontage and if on-street parking is allowed on the street.

“The parking is the whole reason we have it going through a limited review instead of someone doing it on their own accord because if they decided they want to put some of the parking on the street, then they would have to come and have it checked to make sure that they comply,” Allin said.

She added that the option for on-street parking was a compromise between concerns about why the city would regulate parking and concerns of having more cars parked on the street.

Other cities have added less than 1% density with multi-unit homes like duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes. In Decatur, that would be about eight units per year.

“What we’re looking at is this is kind of a gentle solution for adding units at the market, but it gives us pockets of opportunity,” Allin said.

She added the city has to use the opportunities it has because there’s not much land left in Decatur.

Allin has been doing outreach on the missing middle housing proposals for about a year and has heard concerns about property values, school enrollment and traffic.

“Sometimes people are more concerned about property values, which has been researched to death and there’s no evidence that diversity of housing or affordable housing in an established city like Decatur has any impact on property values,” Allin said.

In terms of school enrollment, City Schools of Decatur has been seeing declining enrollment. Allin said that smaller units don’t necessarily have a higher number of children.

“One of my slides was if you redeveloped 100 homes into either large single-family homes versus quadplexes, you end up with roughly the same number of school children based on the math and the way that the schools calculate their enrollment projections,” she said.

Another concern was traffic, and the on-street parking would serve as a traffic-calming measure. The city hopes to bring people closer to where they work, which would reduce commutes and traffic over time, Allin said.

She is looking into issues around short-term rentals and demolitions.

Allin’s key takeaway from the proposals is when this housing was allowed in the city, it created a diversity of housing. When the housing was disallowed it sent the city on a trajectory around housing types, income, racial diversity, and age.

“The trajectory of Decatur’s neighborhoods since around the time this was passed has trended to larger and more expensive homes, families with children, higher incomes and has trended away from smaller homes and housing diversity,” Allin said during a missing middle housing forum. “We’ve trended away from some of these middle income options and housing for all stages of life like the 20-34 [year old] range and older residents.”

The average home price in Decatur was over $700,000 in 2021.

She told Decaturish that the proposal is just reallowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes again.

“I think one of the most important things is it doesn’t mean that you have to build anything other than a single-family home, it just gives options,” Allin said. “It’s all about flexibility.”

Further details about missing middle housing can be found at decaturga.com/affordablehousing.

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