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Last-minute changes to Clarkston zoning ordinance highlight council dysfunction

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Last-minute changes to Clarkston zoning ordinance highlight council dysfunction

L to R, Council Member Susan Hood, Mayor Pro Tem Debra Johnson, Mayor Beverly Burks, Council Member Jamie Carroll, Council Member Awet Eyasu, Council Member Laura Hopkins, Council Member YT Bell. Photo by Sara Amis, contributor

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston’s contentious zoning ordinance rewrite hit yet another snag at the city council’s work session on May 30, this time over parking.

Since the initial draft of the new zoning ordinance was presented in August 2022, the main disagreements between members of the council and members of the community have been about housing. 

Passionate advocates of the need for more affordable housing have pushed for more density, expansion of alternative dwelling units, and allowing limited multifamily housing in neighborhoods currently zoned as single-family residential.

Equally, passionate advocates for preserving Clarkston’s existing NR (neighborhood residential) zones have stated that Clarkston’s percentage of single-family dwellings is already too small. 

The latter group appears to have gotten everything they wanted out of the latest draft of the zoning rewrite, presented by Rosie Mafe of Pond & Co.

All the proposed changes to the section on alternative dwelling units were removed, and duplexes will not be allowed in NR-1 and NR-2. Some multifamily residences including condominium complexes will be allowed in NR-3.

Mafe sought feedback on live-work units and how the council wants to define them.

Councilmember Awet Eyasu said that he preferred to scrap the section on live-work units altogether.

“We don’t have clarity on that. If it needs to be changed later we can revisit it, but right now there’s a lot of confusion,” Eyasu said. 

Eyasu also wanted to add parking minimums for developments.

Councilmember Jamie Carroll pointed out that parking maximums with no minimums had been in the draft of the ordinance since the fall of 2022. Carroll added that more parking means more pavement, which can cause runoff, erosion, and flooding problems. Additionally, Carroll said that it was too big of a change to make at the last minute.

“There is no way we can agree on minimums for every use before the regular meeting,” Carroll said.

Councilmember Susan Hood said that she hadn’t understood the wording, or she would have objected before now. Hood suggested that the new maximums should be designated as minimums, and the maximum should also be the minimum. 

“They can ask for a variance if they want to build something else,” Hood said.

“You’re giving them a very narrow band of allowed parking. I don’t think it’s a good idea for us to micro manage how much parking developers need. It would require us to guess the right number for each type of residence over the next six days,” Carroll said.

Hopkins complained that with no minimums, people will park on the street. Carroll said that it’s already illegal for people to park on the street.

In response to a question from Johnson, City Manager Shawanna Qawiy said that developers will build what the requirements are.

Eyasu suggested a minimum of one parking spot per residence, and Carroll agreed. Bell said that there’s research that shows that parking at apartments is underutilized and that she felt a minimum of one parking spot per residence would likely result in the right amount.

However, Johnson immediately objected that a single-family home needs two parking spaces.

Mayor Beverly Burks struggled to get the council to come to a consensus, and Hood continued to push for the maximum and minimum numbers for parking to be the same.

The response from public commenters was scathing.

Josh Deaton was blunt. “Four of you haven’t read the document until now,” Deaton said. 

Deaton observed that after spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to find out what the public wanted, the council is doing the opposite.

“We know that parking minimums are terrible for the environment, and we know that developers want to build what people will buy, and they can’t get loans unless they’re planning something that has been proven viable,” Deaton said.

Amy Medford was equally exasperated.

“Those parking maximum numbers were in the very first draft of the zoning ordinance,” Medford said, adding, “I’m very disappointed.”  

Medford addressed Mafe as well. “I just want to apologize for all of the hours of work you put in, just to have it undone at the last minute by people who aren’t taking this process seriously,” Medford said.

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