Final Zoning Update Task Force Recommendations Released, City Commission to Tackle in December

Decatur Planning Director Amanda Thompson sends in this announcement…

After over a year of study and deliberation the Zoning Ordinance Update Task Force (ZTF) will be presenting their final recommendations for consideration to the Planning Commission on Tuesday, November 27, 2012 at 5:30 p.m. and to the City Commission on Monday, December 3, 2012 at 7:30 pm. The proposed recommendations can be found at

Based on the direction of the 2010 Strategic Plan the proposed recommendations encourage community gardens, allow for shared parking in commercial areas, update regulations dealing with accessory dwellings and provide new standards for transitions between residential and commercial properties.

Thank you for your past participation on Open City Hall and at the public meetings held throughout this year. The task force members encourage you to attend these final hearings to share your thoughts and if you have written comments please email them to [email protected]

We’ll likely go into more detail on these recommendations in the coming days, but for now I thought everyone would like to know the info was available for their perusal and/or intense analysis.

34 thoughts on “Final Zoning Update Task Force Recommendations Released, City Commission to Tackle in December”

  1. Is this blog working? There hasn’t been a post since yesterday afternoon. I figured this topic would get interest and posts.

      1. Or for sarcastic snark for that matter. Besides, when I win Powerball I’ll be building Georgia’s first moated castle just outside the city limits so your zoning squabbles mean nothing to me.

  2. Based on the results of the last presidential race in Decatur, probably too complicated for the average resident* and certainly too challenging for the few slow-thinking conservatives in Decatur but I suggest that for those who are still able to focus after a high gravity local Kool-Aid, please pay attention to agenda four, page two, “ADUs”. My first question is to those of you, maybe in your early thirties, and married with one or two kids. Would you really want to buy a home in Decatur knowing that your neighbors can build an ADU on the property ajacient your home? Imagine for a moment your kids, playing in the back yard, and the latest ADU renter decides to have a party. Not just a friendly neighborhood get-together but one where a huge crowd gathers to party all night long. The second question was brought to my attention by someone who favors this kind of development. This person described the following senario: A long time resident decides to add a ADU to his or her property, moves in to it, and rents the big house out to (take your pick) A) Someone desperate to get their kids into the City Schools of Decatur, B) Cool young hipsters who want to participate in Decatur’s night life EVERY NIGHT OF THE WEEK, or C) The quiet couple that wants to move into Decatur because of our churches (Hint- There may be more than one correct answer). Do you think it is a good idea for the City to promote this kind of development, one which allows some long time residents to stay in town but fundamentally changes the character of our neighborhoods?
    I hope that unlike this posting, these proposals generate a vigorous and maybe heated debate concerning the future of our neighborhoods.

    *Smiley Face!

    1. Because of course, once the longtime residents move to the backyard, they are no longer part of the neighborhood and make no contribution, exercise no participation and have no influence on the character of the community. Not to mention, they’ll no doubt tolerate any manner of nightmare behavior on the part of the tenants they have chosen to rent their former home. Obviously, the whole town will go to hell.

        1. Just to be clear: my sarcasm was provoked by and directed at Chris Billingsley’s remarks, not the topic in general.

          1. I don’t hold the same suspiscion of rentals in the neighborhood, but I don’t see how using the sarcasm does anything but promote another bicker fest

    2. I watch the ripples change their size
      But never leave the stream
      Of warm impermanence and
      So the days float through my eyes
      But still the days seem the same
      And these children that you spit on
      As they try to change their worlds
      Are immune to your consultations
      They’re quite aware of what they’re going through


      -David Bowie

    3. Fear not, Chris. ADUs are already perfectly legal in Decatur and have been for longer than the term ADU has even been in existence. So long as certain criteria are met, homeowners have the option of building one today, which they’re equally free to live in while they rent out their front house.

      The commission is not exploring the option of legalizing ADUs which, as I said, are already legal. They’re simply considering changes to some of the criteria that regulate how and where they’re allowable to better reflect some of the goals set during the strategic planning process.

      As a fan of Constitutional values, you’ll be glad to know that our right to free assembly (which includes entertaining in our homes), as well as the accompanying rules which govern obnoxious behavior such as loud parties after hours, will presumably remain unchanged. 🙂

    4. Good points on this topic. One of my questions is how will they tax the ADU’s or main property with ADU’s? If for example the old time resident owners who are now exempt from school tax now rent the main house to a family who use the schools… wow, I can see that it gets a bit complicated. Or if the property is used as a guest house for grandkids, then the tax rate should stay exempt. This is a bit mind boggling to regulate. I have considered building an office in our large back yard or a “granny shack” for my mom, so I am interested to see how this unfolds.

  3. There are any number of scare tactics to make us afraid of ADUs (Accessory Dwelling Units). Mr. B has laid many of them out for us. However, the positives of ADUs far outweigh the slight potential for a rager in my neighbor’s backyard. In my opinion, the biggest positive is that it will allow for us to build up our affordable housing stock and preserve the income diversity that we hold dear (according to the strategic plan). Done in this way, it is a market-driven solution to input affordable housing is disparate locations throughout the city, rather than offering government incentives to developers to “coerce” them to build affordable housing into their projects. Not saying that incentives for affordable housing are a bad thing, but the city leaders themselves have stated that we’ve had mixed success in doing so.

  4. I’m a proponent of ADUs because they’re an excellent caregiving option, and there’s good research to support their usage in extended families.

    I was hoping that that visitability guidelines would be included in the final recommendations, but I don’t see them. Will basic home access features in newly built homes will be addressed in some other way later down the line?

    Strategic Plan Task 5F: “Adopt universal design guidelines to allow new commercial buildings, businesses and homes to be visitable by those with mobility impairments.”

  5. Typical conservative. Get the government off our backs and out of our lives.*

    *Except for when a conservative wants to the government to tell people what to do with their lives, the bodies, and apparently, how they can use their property.

    1. Thanks Marty. I have seen this type of comment before, usually to defend the right of individuals to deny others the right to life, liberty and… I guess you heard the rest. Most conservatives in this country defend the right to life. I’m one of them. But let’s save this conversation for another day shall we?
      As to the topic, the question is if Decatur residents should support the idea of turning our neighborhoods into “free for all” rental zones. I am a property owner who believes in single family neighborhoods, that is, one family per piece of property. I believe that we will continue to prosper as a city if we encourage young couples buy into neighborhoods that have clearly defined property rights and restrictions. I think it is a bad idea to allow too much rental property in our neighborhoods. If you feel differently, please give your best argument as to how these changes will improve our neighborhoods.
      In a previous post, someone mentioned that I used scare tactics, or fear, to motivate residents to oppose this change. We should be afraid. This is a fight about what we want our neighborhoods to look like in ten years. If you favor a neighborhood where every individual piece of property has at least one rental unit, then you should support the proposed change. I oppose this change based on my understanding of the history of Decatur. We have prospered for the past 175 years in part because we have attracted single family property owners, not renters.
      Looking forward to future forums in front of the city commission.

      1. So, not only do you want to use the power of big government to tell people what they can and can’t do with their own property, but also use the power of big government to decide who can or can’t live in our little city because of whether they want to rent their dwelling or buy one.

        If rental housing is going to cause so much harm and devastation to our city then why not use the power of big government to ban it all together since you are such a big fan of using this power?

        I’m just going to start calling you Chris “Big Government” Billingsley.

        I, for one, think our city policies currently are too one sided in the single family, home owner direction. Because of our location and school system, our property values have risen so high that Decatur is unapproachable to many except for higher income families with kids who want to take advantage of our great school system. We need more options for housing, not less. And rental housing is one answer. It is not a “free for all” as you say.

      2. Mr. B., your argument seems to be based on the premise that renters are by definition undesirable neighbors. If that is not the case, then please clarify. If that is indeed what you mean to say, then please elaborate.

        1. Oh, it’s what he said. And as someone who rented, mostly in and around City of Decatur, for seventeen (17!) years before finally being able to buy our little dream house last summer, I guess I’m part of his problem.

          OK, maybe I’m not the best example. I can understand cities wanting to keep me out. But to say that “This is a fight about what we want our neighborhoods to look like in ten years” and then argue that restricting property rights to single family use (and who, by the way, get’s to decide what an acceptable “family” is?) is an important goal just makes me shake my head.

          Chris, you say you want my best argument against your statement that it’s a bad idea to allow too much rental property in our neighborhoods? OK, here it is: I think it’s a worse idea to allow moralistic and narrow-minded viewpoints to dictate what I do with my life and my property.

          I could go on, but I don’t think I can do so without getting too close to a personal attack…

          1. J_T, congratulations on your home purchase. I remember that feeling many years ago to go from renter to homeowner, it’s great. It has it’s share of hell, tho, lemme tellya… But we take it in stride.

            I wanna comment on the direction of the discussion in the hope of sharing my experience having gone thru this battle once before. While it makes for good “I’ll claw your eyes out” internet fun, this really is not about big government, that’s another “fight.” Well, it’s the same fight in a different context. Well, … I’m still drinking my coffee catching up, so forgive me wandering a bit.

            TL;DR version: go grab coffee some Dancing Goats with Chris Billingsley, bring the proposals with you and talk thru some of them and see if you can develop a strategy to get a couple more people from your neighborhoods to come to the next one and figure out what works.

            The issue at hand is one of balance and context. “What” is less important than “where, when, how, and why.” I saw this issue play out time and time again over the 315 issue – we went from “Look at this awesome development we got for you!” to accepted with 37 conditions and a repeat visit for any deviation from plan. It took a LOT of activity and meetings and discussions on the part of everyone — and I mean all sides, here — to come to some sense of reasonableness. Everything was all sunshine and bluebirds in our citizen participation meetings, as long as we were talking about what kind of trees and the paint color of the stucco. When we said, “OK, let’s talk about the elephant in the room: 220 units on that parking lot.” When we started wanting to ask the deeper questions – scope, scale, parking, street, traffic, infrastructure, and impact – you could feel the “psychic ghosts” rush across to the other half of the room as the energy and warmth of both the developer and the City QUICKLY retreated to their side of the room. Arms folded and. That. Was. That.

            What types of property – rental, single, mutli, condo, whatever…. is not enough to make any kind of decision … renters are fine! I rented in Decatur, too, before moving there 15 years ago. My wife did, many people did. And do. Nobody hates renters, or if they do, they’re on the wrong side of that argument. The first thing to be pulled out is the whole “NIMBY” slur — I always found that funny, since the ironic thing is that it is just the opposite view of the same short-minded problem. NIMBY in itself may be an absolutely valid response – “my” back yard is not the right place for a 24 hour Wal-Mart Supercenter or an 80′, 220 unit dwelling”… or it might well be, if the plan addresses the other factors that mitigate the impact to the community and the transition is part of a larger _plan_ that is well-articulated and well-conceived and well-executed and not a franken-process of folks’ pet peeves and tax base opportunities.

            The context of the neighborhood is a big part of the difference as to whether it’s “total BS in a bucket” or the “cost of progress”. The question is then about who gets to arbitrate that decision. Reading between the lines on other threads and other channels, it seems that after the 2am marathon session over 315 and who knows how many more, there would be a move to further extricate the political process from this process. That makes NO sense to me – – and yet I can hear some folks in my mind’s ear “win-win!” like it was just last week. Oh, PTSD, how I loathe thee…. Perhaps that is why we have a discussion about whether or not “big government” should be in or out of that process.

            IMNSHO, there can be absolutely no question that in a city like Decatur that the elected officials must be IN the arbitration process and must be actively involved it. To do otherwise forces the individual home-owner or business owner to shoulder the burden of deciphering all the code(legal, tax, building, etc.), strategy, communication, figuring out what alternatives should be explored by the developer…

            So, saying that, I would be very careful about being led into the debate of whether renters are good neighbors or whether government should be telling property owners their business… The answer is “sometimes” … and the harder, deeper question is “OK, when, how, why, and what?”

            These new shared parking and other ordinances are an effort to codify something, and they need to be examined very closely and thought thru carefully by residents with either a well-articulated, specific plan from the City or an inferential one created by residents and taken back to the City saying “This is the City we see that will be created by these rules, we don’t like it, here’s why.” and get the one that you want.

            There are a lot of smart folks in Decatur. I never knew how truly brilliant some of them were until we started going thru, unwinding all of the insanity that came our way. But it all started with 6 of us looking at what must have passed at least someone’s muster as a grand plan to double the size of our neighborhood and going “Huh? WTF” over some coffee at Dancing Goats.

            Rather than argue on here, maybe you and Chris Billingsley should, as neighbors, go grab some coffee and talk face-to-face about this stuff.

            Good luck!

        2. Renters, generally speaking, aren’t undesirable neighbors. But, we do need to worry about the proportion of rental properties to owner-occupied ones. Renters generally don’t care for properties as well as homeowners, and there is a tipping point where an excess of rental properties can lead to deterioriation of the neighborhood.

          That being said, I don’t think that is the case with ADUs. The homeowners who care for thier properties will also care for their accessory dwellings. After all, the ADUs are located in their yards.

  6. Wow. Is it this PTSD flashback? Do I need to pop another Xanax? Do I need to rock myself in the corner, “They went bankrupt. It’s ok. It’s all over, now. They went bankrupt. There are new owners, now. It’ll be ok. They can’t 220-aparments-with-130-parking-spots you again.” All of the above? Rock, rock, rock…

    For 4 square miles, well, prolly more like 6.332 now, maybe, there sure can be a lot of drama about stuff like this. Lawd hammercy. It’s good, all in all, because it shows folks care deeply. That is definitely a history of Decatur that is part of its success.

    Keep up the good fight while I immerse my ears in ice water.

  7. Renters, in the big scheme of things, are undesirable residents. People rent because they can’t buy. Either a bankruptcy shuts them out of the buying market or they simply cannot afford a down payment and a mortgage. Renters often do not take care of property as well as owners. Why should they? If it gets too crappy, they can move on.
    And in a town with many colleges around, renters will tend to be groups of students. Rowdy, drunken, loud obnoxious type neighbor students.
    Now all of the above are gross generalizations. Broad brush profiling. But in the grand overall scheme of real estate, renters are financial trouble for cities if rental properties begin to predominate.

  8. Lots of people jumping the gun here – the type of rental properties the ADU zoning standard would encourage are not apartment complexes or college frat houses. They are single unit garage apartments owned and leased by the resident of the larger house on the property.

    Take my situation as an example. Our 4 BR, 3.5 BA house in a normal residential neighborhood will likely always have a family with children in it. I would have no desire to rent a theoretical studio/1BR ADU in my back yard to a bunch of fraternity guys or a death metal band. I’m not going to run a Section 8 housing operation. My kids play in that backyard and my family sleeps 50 feet away from that apartment. I would have full control and I would exercise judgement on what kinds of renters I would be comfortable with.

    I imagine a garage apartment out back would be leased to a responsible Agnes Scott student or faculty member or some other single looking for convenience to Decatur’s offerings.

    Do you guys get that? We’re not talking about rezoning so corporate rental agencies can build apartment complexes for credit-wrecked deadbeats and college party animals. We’re talking about allowing for one-off development of small single rental units that would be managed and maintained by onsite owners.

    1. What’s wrong with death metal? Some of my best friends are death metal lovers. Once you get past the Cannibal Corpse tattoos, multiple piercings, all-black clothing and mosh pit scars, they’re good people. Really!

      How’s THAT for a thread jack? 🙂

    2. Thank you, TeeRuss. I give you the old +1. And lest we forget – as Scott pointed out, ADUs are perfectly legal in Decatur, right now, today, tomorrow and presumably forever. This isn’t about that. This is simply a design/lot configuration matter. I think if “WE” had a problem with “allowing” rental in Decatur, “WE” would have made that known in the strategic planning process. That didn’t seem to come up, from what I could tell. Rather, there was a call from “US” to revisit the ADU code to make it more user-friendly, and in general, to push for a wider range of housing options to ensure we keep some semblance of income diversity here. If you aren’t on board with those things then it appears to me that you are in the minority. And with that, you can voice your opinion all day long, and should, but don’t expect a major shift in policy away from the current trajectory – which I will point out again, encourages rental and allows ADUs.

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