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Clarkston Planning and Zoning Committee rejects changes to zoning ordinance

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Clarkston Planning and Zoning Committee rejects changes to zoning ordinance

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — In a lengthy meeting plagued by technical difficulties, the Clarkston Planning and Zoning Committee voted to recommend denying changes to Clarkston’s zoning ordinance at their meeting on March 21.

Pond & Company was hired by the city to rewrite the zoning ordinance and has been working on it for a year and a half. Rosie Mafe of Pond & Co. offered an overview of the process and the proposed changes to the zoning ordinance. 

Pond & Co., along with Sycamore Consulting, conducted four community meetings, two public hearings, and meetings with a technical advisory committee to gather information and incorporate public feedback into the changes.

Mafe said that requests from the public included a more user-friendly zoning code, a wider variety of housing options to include more affordable housing, preservation of historic neighborhoods, revitalization of Clarkston’s downtown, and walkability.

In response to requests to make the code easier to use and understand and to make sure it reflects the comprehensive master plan, the zoning ordinance was rearranged to group zoning types together, with clearer explanations and graphics to illustrate each zoning type.

To provide more housing options, the zoning rewrite would make it easier to build accessory dwelling units (ADUs), although it would restrict them to lots where the homeowner has a homestead exemption. It would also allow live-work units and mixed-use developments in the town center to increase density and walkability. 

While some objected to changes in the rules for ADUs, the change that proved the most controversial is that the new zoning ordinance would allow duplexes in neighborhood residential areas 1 and 2 while also allowing live/work units and townhomes in NR-2. Multifamily units are already allowed in the city’s third neighborhood residential area NR-3.

Public commenters, including current and former city council members, spoke passionately both for and against increased density and allowing more multifamily units in primarily single-family neighborhoods.

Those who spoke in favor of increased density cited the housing crisis, which is both national, regional, and local. 

Clarkston resident Rich Pasenow said, “We are in a major housing crisis, both locally and nationally. From 2021 to 2022, Atlanta residents needed 50% more income to afford a median-priced home.” Pasenow said that during the zoning rewrite process, the public asked for more housing and more types of housing and that he would like to see duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in all zoning districts. 

Resident Adrianna Berlin said that there is a housing crisis in Clarkston itself in that the apartment complexes are all 99% full and that, based on her experience as a realtor, houses are not available.

Resident William Johnston spoke in favor of what he called “gentle density.” 

“We need to make room for families. We need to make room for citizens,” Johnston said.

Another resident, Joshua Deaton, said that he would like to be able to build an ADU so his mother or a friend could live there because he sees his friends paying more than his mortgage for apartments that are not in good condition.

Deaton added that many people in Clarkston come from areas where multi-generational housing is common, and they should be allowed to recreate that.

Amy Medford said that as it stands, the average citizen in Clarkston can’t afford to buy the available houses.

“Our average citizen makes $48,000 a year, and none of the houses for sale are being listed for less than $200,000.”  As it stands, the average citizen in Clarkston can’t afford to buy the available houses. Medford urged finding ways to increase housing stock so that people in Clarkston could find affordable housing.

Mark Perkins, a former city council member, served on the technical advisory committee for the zoning rewrite and supports it as is. Perkins said that recommendations from professionals over the years have been to increase density and walkability in the center of town.

“I think it’s consistent with some of the conversations about housing that we’ve had over the years and provides for a gentle increase in density,” Perkins said. 

Current city council member Jamie Carroll said that even those who have resources and connections can’t find housing. Carroll said that if there is a desire for more single-family housing, it could be created by reducing lot sizes.

“We can love our residents by creating more housing so that they can stay in Clarkston,” Carroll said.

Other city council members and residents spoke against the changes, arguing that Clarkston is already more dense and affordable than neighboring cities and that there is a stronger need to preserve existing single-family neighborhoods.

Council member Susan Hood said that Clarkston has 8,000 people per square mile, the highest density of neighboring cities, and that Clarkston’s single-family residential areas are relatively small.

“Sixty percent of Atlanta’s zoning is single-family, while Clarkston’s is sixteen percent.  Only nine percent of houses in Clarkston are owner-occupied,” said Hood. 

Hood said that Clarkston is already doing its part for the housing crisis. 

“Clarkston is pretty much the exemplar when it comes to housing availability, and we have all kinds of housing,” said Hood.

Council member Debra Johnson also spoke in favor of preserving established single-family neighborhoods, as did residents Ira Jenkins, Martha Brock, and George French.

Brock expressed fear that diluting the three zones for single-family houses will change the character of the city. “I definitely don’t want apartments next to my house,” Brock said.

French said that building more housing was no guarantee that it would be affordable, since developers would be looking for maximum profit. He added that affordability was a matter of perspective.

“I can’t afford Buckhead, that’s why I’m living in Clarkston,” French said.  

Councilmember Awet Eyasu took a more middle-of-the-road stance. Eyasu agreed with the concern that new housing didn’t necessarily mean affordable housing, and was also concerned that adding more density in some areas would impact infrastructure. 

However, Eyasu said that he was in favor of more ADUs and cottages (tiny homes). Eyasu thinks increasing building height and adding mixed-use projects in the town center will help with the need for more residences.

Planning and Zoning Committee members Felicia Weinert and Herbert Clark both expressed skepticism that allowing more density in Clarkston would do much to improve housing prices.

“We don’t have any control over what these developers charge,” said Weinert.

Committee member Lisa Williams said that without other mechanisms to ensure that additional housing would benefit existing Clarkston residents or those with lower incomes, it would simply go to whoever could pay for it.

“We’ve talked a lot about affordable housing, but we don’t have an affordable housing program,” said Williams. 

Williams also said that building more housing was a solution that needed to be implemented on a grand scale to work and that Clarkston should focus on the very low homeownership numbers in the city. 

“There’s a huge conversation about homeownership missing, in my opinion,” Williams said.

Committee Chair Charles McFarland said that most of the concerns seemed to be about increased density negatively affecting homeowners in NR1, NR2, and NR3. McFarland said that he lives in NR3 where apartment buildings already exist and that he is friends with apartment-dwelling neighbors he might not have met otherwise.

He also dismissed the idea that the zoning changes would dramatically alter neighborhoods.

“People are worried about developers. I don’t see a lot of room for developers,” McFarland said.

Based on his own experiences living in a single-family residential area with some multifamily dwellings, McFarland said that he doesn’t believe allowing them in the other NR areas would have the effects people fear. 

“I just don’t see it,” McFarland said.

Technical difficulties and a lack of adherence to procedure complicated the end of the meeting. Three motions failed in quick succession: One motion to table the discussion until next month’s meeting failed lacking a second, then one to deny the changes to the zoning ordinance, then a third to accept the changes.

A second motion to recommend denial of proposed changes to the zoning ordinance before it goes to the city council finally received a second and passed.

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