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Decatur City Commission discusses final missing middle housing recommendations

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Decatur City Commission discusses final missing middle housing recommendations

Decatur City Hall.

Decatur, GA — Decatur City Planner Kristin Allin presented the final policy goals and recommendations related to missing middle housing to the Decatur City Commission during a work session on Dec. 5.

The city has been working to once again allow duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in city neighborhoods, which was a recommendation of the Affordable Housing Task Force. This recommendation was incorporated into the city’s 2030 strategic plan. This type of housing would have to conform to the size limitations of single-family homes.

The city commission 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 final goals and recommendations are:

– Allow building types that formerly existed to be created again: new or converted duplex, triplex, quadplex.

– By right construction or home conversion in R-60, R-50, R-85, RS-17.

– Required to conform to the unified development ordinance’s size, height, floor area ratio and lot coverage of a single-family home.

– Annual metrics: report on the number created, percent rental, sale prices, on-street parking utilization, and percentage that are short term rentals.

– Limited review of on street parking requirements.

– Create new policy for short-term rentals.

– Allow an accessory dwelling unit with a duplex, triplex and quadplex.

The city commission may also consider increasing the street parking dimension to 18 feet or keep it at 15 feet, and consider whether to allow by-right construction as a limited use or require a conditional use permit depending on density.

The Decatur Planning Commission previously voted to recommend the denial of the city’s application due to deficiencies the commission members saw in the current proposal.

The planning commission members went back and forth about whether they should “approve with conditions” or deny and ultimately voted to deny because of concerns related to design standards, square footage minimums, parking standards, unintended consequences of activities from private developers, and more.

The city commission will consider voting on the missing middle housing recommendations on Jan. 17 and Feb. 6 at 7:30 p.m. Both meetings will take place at Decatur City Hall.

“[House Bill]1405 amended the Zoning Procedures Law and states that for this type of zoning decision at least [two] public hearings must be held and the public hearings ‘shall be held at least three months and not more than nine months prior to the date of final action on the zoning decision,’” City Manager Andrea Arnold previously told Decaturish.

The city held two public hearings in October.

“Also, the zoning decision must be adopted at [two] meetings. In order to comply with these requirements, the dates to consider the proposed text amendments are January 17, 2023, and February 6, 2023,” Arnold said.

During the public hearing on Oct. 17, many residents raised concerns about affordability, blanket zoning changes, parking, investor homes, absentee ownership, and short-term rentals.

About 80 residents crowded into City Hall to speak in favor of and against the proposals. Residents also urged the city commission to consider duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes on a case-by-case basis. A few additionally suggested the proposals be a referendum for voters to consider.

Many residents who spoke on Oct. 17 were concerned about how a blanket zoning change could impact the city and the neighborhoods.

“How do we know that a broad zoning change without any other stipulations will not create more developer-driven interests within our city,” resident Liz Post asked the city commission. “Developers have shown their bottom line, and it’s a personal return on their investment, not the city of Decatur.”

She also asked if the community wants the city to be filled with overpriced multifamily units and added it negates affordable housing.

“How can we have a city built on community and inclusion when taxpayers are speaking up and saying they don’t feel that there’s total transparency within the current proposal,” Post said. “One of the many reasons that put Decatur in the current position of high home values is developers tearing down affordable homes and erecting new homes well over $1 million.”

Multiple speakers also wondered how re-allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes would help provide more affordable housing options in the city.

“While units in a multiple resident unit are of course likely to rent for less than a single family home, it’s nearly impossible for me to imagine that a two-bedroom duplex, triplex or quadplex, at least one that meets the safety, quality and building standards that we would expect, is going to rent in the city of Decatur for $1,300 a month or less,” speaker Carol Tangum said.

Some of the goals for re-allowing missing middle housing include preserving a community that is inclusive and welcoming for all, and have a diversity of housing for a diversity of people.

“We want to have housing choices at varied income levels, flexible housing options including rental and ownership, increase supply of smaller housing units for attainability, and to encourage subsidized and market-rate housing to diversify housing prices in our neighborhoods,” Allin said.

Some of the concerns raised through feedback from the community included worries about homes being purchased by investors. According to Allin’s presentation, large investors typically target single-family homes, and rentals in the city are predominately small or moderately-sized owners who often manage their own properties.

The price points in Decatur are generally too high for large institutional investors.

“Institutional investors aren’t interested in the city of Decatur. They’re interested in South DeKalb. They’re interested in Henry County,” said Dan Immergluck, professor of the Urban Studies Institute at Georgia State University. “The numbers don’t work for them given what kind of rates of return they want. If they have to pay $500,000 for a property, they just don’t want those homes. I do hope this increases smaller investment in the city because those are the folks who will create rental housing.”

Other concerns that have been raised include the potential rise in land values and home values, as well as the devaluation of properties

“There’s no evidence of [devaluation], but we haven’t had a lot of missing middle…development,” Immergluck said. “The general evidence, though, on large multifamily effects on property values is very small. Even when apartment buildings are built, they have very modest, sometimes positive, effects, especially in low-income neighborhoods when you see new construction going in, it tends to increase property values.”

To view Allin’s full presentation, click here.

Writer Mary Margaret Stewart contributed to this article.

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