Decatur issues three building permits for missing middle housing projectsFILE PHOTO USED FOR ILLUSTRATION PURPOSES: A duplex in the city of Decatur. Photo by Dean Hesse.
Decatur, GA — Decatur’s missing middle housing ordinance went into effect on June 30. Since then, the city has issued three building permits for missing middle housing projects.
Two of the applications were submitted on June 30. None of the proposals require variances, and they do not need to go before the city commission. The three projects include building a new duplex, converting a single-family home into a duplex, and constructing a new quadplex. The projects are located three different lower elementary school zones – Winnona Park, Oakhurst and Clairemont.
Decaturish has submitted a records request with the city to learn more about these missing middle housing projects.
The City Schools of Decatur School Board has also directed the superintendent to apply for the necessary permits to move forward with a duplex project. The school board owns four homes in Decatur and has discussed converting two into duplexes that would be used as affordable rental options for school district employees. The two CSD-owned homes that could become duplexes are located at 204 Westchester Drive and 927 S McDonough Street.
On Feb. 6, the Decatur City Commission unanimously adopted zoning amendments that re-allow duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in single-family zoning districts.
The missing middle housing ordinance was driven by recommendations from the Affordable Housing Task Force, which was adopted as part of the 2020 strategic plan, Planning and Economic Development Director Angela Threadgill told Decaturish.
In the spectrum of housing types, there are large multifamily developments on one end and the traditional single-family homes on the other, but in between there are smaller scale housing types like duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes. Over the last few decades, multifamily developments and single-family homes have been the primary building types built in Decatur, Threadgill said.
“There are townhomes that are being constructed, but for us here in the city, we don’t see duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes, the smaller size apartment buildings. The reason being, close to four decades ago, those were written out of our zoning code,” Threadgill said. “This missing middle housing ordinance reintroduces opportunities to construct duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes in the single family residential zoning districts.”
The housing types were disallowed in 1988 due to absentee ownership, former city planner Kristin Allin previously said.
The new missing middle housing ordinance allows for the construction of or conversion to duplexes, which are two units, and walk-up flats, which are three to four units, in the city’s R-50, R-60, R-85, and RS-17 zoning districts by limited use. These types of housing will have to conform to the size limitations of single-family homes. The ability to build and maintain a single-family home has not changed.
“An applicant cannot develop to any greater degree than what a single family home could develop to,” Threadgill said.
To build a duplex, triplex or quadplex, however, the property would have to be a conforming lot. For example, in an R-60 zoning district, the lot size is a minimum of 9,000 square feet, a minimum of 60 feet of coverage, and a minimum of 120-feet in depth.
“If the applicant’s lot is less than any of those dimensions, it’s considered a nonconforming lot, and they would be ineligible to have anything but a single family residence,” Threadgill said.
The city is still figuring out the best approach to handle missing middle housing applications for nonconforming lots.
“There’s a lot of moving parts to determine exactly what needs to be built, but once they’ve worked out those details, an applicant is just going to file for their building permits. From there, the zoning and plan review staff will make sure the codes are being met,” Threadgill said.
The ordinance also requires one parking space per unit, and allows for up to 50% of the parking for duplexes and walk-up flats to be on-street parking, as long as there is enough street frontage and on-street parking is allowed.
A four-unit walk-up flat may also have one accessory dwelling unit. In this case, the project would have to meet the mandatory inclusionary housing ordinance to reserve at least one unit as affordable.
The city is limiting the number of building permits until Dec. 31, 2024. The permits are limited to three per Decatur lower elementary school zone to give the city time to implement the zoning changes.
“This is a brand-new housing type that’s now allowed in single family [zoning districts],” Threadgill said. “The city commission is also wanting to track the effect of these housing types on what was single-family-residential-only districts.”
The limitation of three permits per elementary school zone was based on internal discussion and community sentiment, and it will allow for 15 permits to be issued during the implementation period.
“It’s enough to track the interest from property owners and the building community, but not enough to impact the school system,” Threadgill said. “It’s a gradual implementation so that we as a city are preparing ourselves from a permitting standpoint, but also a school enrollment standpoint.”
The city staff is tracking data and will give a report to the city commission in January 2025 on what the zoning staff has learned. During the missing middle housing public hearings, concerns were raised about how missing middle housing types would be affordable. The city cannot regulate sales or rental prices in the private market.
“In the research that was done when developing this policy, because the homes are smaller…you don’t take on the full burden of the care, maintenance and taxes for a typical single family lot,” Threadgill said. “You’re sharing in those costs with two other households, so that in itself makes it more affordable.”
Commissioner Lesa Mayer said she recognizes that housing diversity does not guarantee affordability, but it would improve housing accessibility.
“What I’ve found by being on the city commission for four years is that there’s a lot of compromise to be had,” Mayer said. “We aren’t in the position to be able to demand affordability of a rental duplex. We don’t have an ordinance for that, but what we can hope is that by having more diverse housing options that, that ultimately affects affordability in a positive way. If not, it’ll improve housing accessibility. It may make living in Decatur feasible for a family who may not have been able to make living in Decatur work previously, and I’m happy about that.”
Decatur Mayor Patti Garrett said the city aimed to be bold and intentional in its efforts to sustain its core values of diversity and inclusion.
“How can we implement change to provide for more affordable options and to maintain the naturally-occurring affordable housing units that are tucked in our community throughout the city? We need a collective effort of elected officials, city staff, development partners, nonprofits and the community to create the change,” she said.
She added that re-allowing duplexes, triplexes and quadplexes is on strategy to do so.
“My hope is that this will open doors for more diversity and inclusion in Decatur,” Garrett said. “Ordinance changes are typically not fully realized overnight; data collected from the change will be important to monitor.”
The missing middle housing ordinance aims to allow more housing types in the city of Decatur. The city needs to improve the diversity in its housing stock, Mayer said.
“We have a lot of single family homes. We have a lot of apartments, but those don’t always fit the need for everyone,” Mayer said.
Having the ability to own or rent part of a duplex, triplex or quadplex fills the gap for those who have aging parents, young adult children or an individual who may need an opportunity to make additional income, she added.
“While we’re not going to be inundated with those options now, it’s nice to have an increase in the opportunity for those,” Mayer said.
Mayer is supportive of any reasonable opportunity to increase housing and housing affordability.
“I recognize that there is a combination of strategies that we need to employ to make a comprehensive change in affordability here in Decatur. This made sense,” Mayer said. “It doesn’t mean that we don’t have other things that we need to incorporate into that plan, but for now that was one component of what should be a many-piece plan to increase affordability, and not just affordability but also accessibility.”
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