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Decatur to work with MicroLife Institute to design affordable housing project on Commerce Drive

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Decatur to work with MicroLife Institute to design affordable housing project on Commerce Drive

600 Commerce Drive, Decatur, GA. Image obtained via Google Maps

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, at its Oct. 16 regular meeting, established a project budget of $30,000 and approved a professional services agreement with MicroLife Institute for $27,500 to come up with a conceptual design for the city-owned property at 600 and 604 Commerce Drive.

According to the proposal, MicroLife has proposed constructing a four-plex, or quadplex.

“The goal of this initiative is to give context and feasibility for a project to be built as an example of the newly passed zoning laws allowing up to four-plexes in residential zones in Decatur,” the application states.

The city purchased 600 and 604 Commerce Drive in June 2022 for $600,000. At one point the property was slated to be a halfway house for veterans leaving drug rehab, according to one neighbor, but the neighbors fought it. The property has been in a sorry state for years, the neighbor said. At one point in 2021, a developer was eyeing the property as a site for townhomes.

Together, those parcels are about 0.57 acres and there is a 4,000-square-foot vacant home on the property. They are zoned R-60 single-family residential.

“Given the lot size of nearly 25,000 square feet, and that’s inclusive of both 600 and 604 Commerce Drive, the property is considered legal and conforming,” Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill said. “As of June 30 of this year, the property is eligible for the construction of a missing middle housing type, which includes a duplex or walk-up flat for three or four units.”

The property cannot have four townhomes right next to each other. A walk-up flat has to be vertically and horizontally organized and cannot be four townhomes, Threadgill said.

The city intends to demolish the home.

“I am currently working through an acquisition of another property in the city of Decatur, which involves a demolition,” Deputy City Manager David Junger said. “It would be my plan to package the demolition for this property, the one that we’re acquiring and then one previously acquired in a different part of the city. The one that we’re acquiring does have a timeline, which would drive things quickly.”

The proposal will include community engagement opportunities. If approved by the city commission, the project would take about two to three months.

“The proposal for conceptual design services will include community engagement opportunities that have an emphasis on the recently adopted missing middle housing ordinance. Then also site analysis that looks at any of the lot constraints as well as opportunities,” Threadgill said. “The conceptual design should be based on the local development codes as well as the community input.”

For example, with the missing middle housing types, the home cannot be larger than a single-family home.

“We’d also be looking at a feasibility study, and then also the presentation of findings,” Threadgill said. “The ultimate goal is to use this city-owned property to further our community discussions around missing middle housing types.”

MicroLife Institute also hopes to present other options that are outside the box and potentially look at smaller cottages or other options.

“Most likely that is going to require a rezoning,” Threadgill said. “If there isn’t buy-in or consensus building during this phase one, then that’s what happens, but at least we’re having the community conversation and discussion around it for this particular property.”

The design and community engagement will take about three months to complete. Threadgill added that the design is phase one of the project. The conceptual design will go back before the city commission for guidance on the next steps.

“I’m very excited to see what can be done with this space, so [I’m] very much looking forward to any opportunity to make something positive and impactful with this site,” Commissioner Lesa Mayer said.

Commissioner George Dusenbury added this would be an opportunity to also improve pedestrian safety on Commerce Drive as part of the redevelopment.

“That is not a fun place to walk,” he said.

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