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Avondale Estates City Commission considering a variance for an accessory dwelling unit

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Avondale Estates City Commission considering a variance for an accessory dwelling unit

The homeowners of 14 Dartmouth Ave. in Avondale Estates are seeking to build an accessory dwelling unit. Photo obtained via Google Maps.

Avondale Estates, GA — The Avondale Estates City Commission, at its June 14 meeting, discussed a variance request for an accessory dwelling unit during a work session. 

The city commission did not take any formal action on the request. A public hearing will be held on June 28 and the city commission will vote on the variance request during its regular meeting on June 28. The commissioners were split in their opinions on allowing a homeowner to improve their property and upholding the city’s zoning code.

The homeowners of 14 Dartmouth Ave. are seeking to demolish an existing detached garage and rebuild a one-story accessory structure that would function as an office, storage space, and additional entertainment space. 

The studio would have an upper loft and be in the rear yard of the home. It would be built on the existing foundation of the garage, but the current garage is nonconforming to the city’s zoning code. The garage currently has a side setback of 1.7 feet and the required setback is 12 feet.

“This would have been built before the previous zoning. It did not meet the previous zoning, and it does not meet this zoning code,” Assistant City Manager Shannon Powell said. “The applicant is asking to take it down and rebuild and add to the nonconformity. They want to build in the same location but build higher.”

The proposed accessory structure would be about four feet taller. The height would increase from about 12 feet to about 16.5 feet within the nonconforming side yard setback.

“The increase in height is an expansion of a nonconforming structure which is not permitted by the zoning ordinance,” the review from city staff says.

The city staff determined there was no hardship with the project that would necessitate granting the variance. Per the zoning code, the homeowner could rebuild on the existing foundation if they don’t change the size of the structure or make other changes that would be even more nonconforming than the current structure. The structure could be built at the proposed height if it is setback of 12 feet.

Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher wondered if there was room on the property to move the proposed structure to meet the setback requirement. In doing so, the ADU would be in the middle of the backyard and only a few feet from the house. Fisher also noted that he lives across the street from the applicants.

“I think the other thing that’s important to recognize in this too is even prior to when the garage next door was built a couple of years ago, there were two garages that were basically the same right next to each other with the same setback requirements. I think what the new garage did was set it back a little bit further, and it did go higher,” Fisher said. “I do understand that from a guidance and ordinance standpoint the 12-foot setback, but also question again when we’ve got homes that were done prior to these ordinances that aren’t going to fit.”

Commissioners Dee Merriam and Lisa Shortell questioned why the city commission wouldn’t uphold the city’s zoning code. Shortell noted that once the structure is torn down, the homeowners would be starting from square one.

“I don’t understand why you wouldn’t just move it over if you want to build it higher,” Shortell said. “The second thing was, the biggest concern is being unfair to other folks in the community. I, personally, know some people who have existing garages that are nonconforming in the setback and wanted to add on a small upstairs. They worked with staff, staff said you can’t do that, it’s against zoning. Those folks figured out a different way to improve their property and provide more space on their property.”

She added that the city commission is considering the neighboring nonconforming ADU too much.

“Are we saying, if we approve this, that anyone who wants to build a garage next to an already nonconforming ADU is allowed to build higher, but that if you don’t, you can’t?” Shortell asked.

Powell said the planning, zoning, and architecture board voted to support the request with a 4-1 vote based on aesthetics.

In other business, during the regular meeting, the city commission adopted an administrative fee ordinance and amending the alcohol ordinance to allow farm winery tasting rooms.

For a business to operate as a farm winery and a tasting room, it has to obtain federal, state, and local licenses. Currently, the city of Avondale Estates does not have a provision in its alcohol ordinance that would allow for a farm winery or tasting room.

Businesses can currently manufacture and sell beer and spirits according to the city’s alcohol ordinance.

The city commission also approved an administrative fee ordinance to allow the city manager to establish and update the fees regularly. The city charges fees for various permits, licenses, and other administrative tasks. The city has not updated its fees in several years.

Currently, those fees are set by multiple ordinances, and the city didn’t have a mechanism to update the fees regularly.

“…it consolidates all administrative fees that are currently found in numerous places throughout the city’s code into one schedule that the city manager will prepare for the board during the budget process for approval as a part of the budget process,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said.

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