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Clarkston holds public hearing on zoning rewrite, tables vote until May

Business Clarkston

Clarkston holds public hearing on zoning rewrite, tables vote until May

Clarkston City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.

Clarkston, GA — The Clarkston city council held a public hearing for the city’s contentious zoning ordinance rewrite during their regular meeting April 4, before deferring a vote until next month.

As at previous meetings, changes to the three neighborhood residential zones, only one of which currently allows multifamily dwellings, and other measures intended to create more available housing such as additional types of alternative dwelling units (ADUs), sparked the most controversy.

Clarkston’s residents spoke passionately both for increasing the stock of available housing by increasing density, and for preserving the city’s existing single-family neighborhoods.

Jean Hilyard said that she lives in neighborhood residential zone 1 and would prefer that it remain unchanged.

“NR-1 is about 10% of the housing in Clarkston. We can let that 10% stay as single family housing and still have 90% of the city for multifamily housing,” Hilyard said.

Some residents expressed concern that if multifamily dwellings are allowed in neighborhoods that are currently devoted to single-family dwellings that developers with ready cash could purchase houses and repurpose or rebuild them into apartments.

Several of those speaking in favor of the new zoning ordinance as written pointed out that it was already the product of compromise. Resident Amy Medford said that the current zoning rewrite is the product of years of discussion and is based on extensive community feedback and opinions divided among those who want more density and those who don’t. 

Mark Perkins said that he served on the city council during a previous rewrite and also sat on the planning and zoning committee. 

“We’ve had a massive amount of community input that has gone into this project. The data that we collected from those was overwhelmingly in favor of increasing density,” Perkins said. 

Maggie Deaton said that she moved to Clarkston to teach in 2016, and said that what she has seen is that the lack of options contributes to the mismanagement of existing apartment complexes.

“I moved here to be around people from all different backgrounds,” Deaton said, adding,  “I don’t want it to be so difficult for my friends and neighbors to stay in this place they love.”

Rich Pasenow expressed dismay that the city has spent over $100,000 for a rewrite, which they now seem inclined to ignore.

“What’s your plan to address the housing crisis? What’s your idea? Or is your plan simply to close the door behind you?” Pasenow asked. 

Joshua Deaton echoed Pasenow’s concern about how much money the city had spent on the zoning rewrite, and said that Pond & Co. had included suggestions which would prevent some people’s fears about outside developers transforming neighborhoods.

Deaton thinks the looser restrictions on ADUs will allow more flexibility.

“I’d like to build an ADU with a smaller setback so that we can avoid encroaching on our existing trees and roots. My dad passed away, and I’d love for my mom to be able to come and live with us in her own space,” Deaton said.

Most of those who spoke against some aspects of the zoning rewrite agreed that creating more affordable housing was a worthy goal, but either didn’t think it should come at the sacrifice of Clarkston’s single-family home neighborhoods or felt that Clarkston would be a mere drop in the bucket of a regional and national problem.

Lisa Williams said that housing problems are regional and require regional solutions.

“Clarkston can’t solve Atlanta’s housing crisis. Clarkston already has the lowest median home sale prices in the Atlanta metro area,”  Williams said, adding that Clarkston’s homeownership rate at 9% is very low.  

Debbie Gathmann said that she was concerned about changing the nature of Clarkston by changing the nature of the neighborhoods. However, Gathmann said that she recognized the need for more affordable housing and would like to see alternative solutions like having a tiny house village built by Habitat for Humanity or converting existing apartment complexes into town homes that residents could manage themselves.

Even those who seemed most vehemently opposed to the zoning rewrite found some things to like about it. Chris Busing called the zoning rewrite “radical and dangerous.” However, Busing also spoke in favor of accessory dwelling units and said that he has one in his backyard. 

After the public hearing, Vice Mayor Debra Johnson moved to defer a vote on the zoning ordinance to the next regular city council meeting in May.

Mayor Beverly Burks reminded the council that the vote cannot be extended too far because a discussion of the city’s millage rate is looming on the horizon.

While the council did not discuss the zoning ordinance very much, council member Awet Eyasu addressed concerns expressed by residents about the amount of money the city has spent on zoning.

Eyasu said that the zoning rewrite was hundreds of pages, and that even if the council rejected some changes, it would likely adopt the majority of it. “We’re not talking about wasting taxpayer money,” Eyasu said.

In other business at the April 4 meeting, the city council did approve several measures discussed at their work session last week.

— The council voted to allocate $150,000 in American Rescue Plan Act funds to a two-year contract for code enforcement. Eyasu, who was the only abstention, stated that he would prefer to hire a code compliance officer directly, as he feels it would be easier to hold that person accountable as opposed to an outside contractor.

— The council approved an ordinance to allow convenience stores that maintain video surveillance systems and acquire a permit to stay open 24 hours.

Eyasu, who was the only council member to vote against the ordinance, said that he felt that the ordinance was improved, but his main concern is that it will allow coin operated gambling machines to be available all night long.

Vice Mayor Debra Johnson said that until the permits are issued, the convenience stores need to be in compliance with the law as stated.

“It’s not a free-for-all like it was before,” said Council member YT Bell.

— The council declared a 2004 Ford F-150 truck belonging to the city’s Public Works Department to be surplus, which allows it to be auctioned off. The council also accepted $138,230 from the Georgia Municipal Association Direct Leasing Program for the purchase of three vehicles, two for Public Work and one for the Clarkston Police Department, along with emergency lighting.

— The council voted to impose a set of new temporary moratoriums on self-storage facilities, automobile service centers or gas stations, and small box variety stores. These effectively renew moratoriums that were approved last year but have expired. 

Bell said that the moratoriums were originally adopted because the city was in the middle of a zoning rewrite, and the rewrite is still in process.

Eyasu objected to both the gas station and small box store moratoriums, and was the only “no” vote on both. Eyasu expressed the opinion that allowing existing gas stations to stay open 24 hours while not allowing any new ones was hypocritical.

Burks said that the moratoriums will only apply until the new zoning ordinance is approved.

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