Decatur City Commission Agrees to Consider Demolition/Tree Removal Moratorium at Next Meeting

At last night’s meeting, the Decatur City Commission agreed to add an agenda item to the October 22nd meeting that would entertain a moratorium on single family home demolition and tree removal (in excess of 12-inches at chest height) from October 22nd to January 24th.

The mayor pointed out that the city commission doesn’t normally give so much notice on an action item, but “…we did it tonight because this is stepping way out of our normal range of options.”  He also noted that the moratorium was needed to limit an extended flurry of activity surrounding these two actions between now and the first stage of the Unified Development Code is set to be completed in January.

City Manager Peggy Merriss said that the details of the moratorium would be available for viewing by the end of the week.

Proponents on both sides of the issue showed up to state their positions on the subject.  Decaturish has a good report of how things played out.

114 thoughts on “Decatur City Commission Agrees to Consider Demolition/Tree Removal Moratorium at Next Meeting”

  1. “Residents in favor of the idea say they want to protect the city’s tree canopy.”

    If the purpose is only to preserve the tree’s canopy, why halt tear-downs? If an existing home can be torn down without removing any large trees, denying the demolition permit doesn’t serve the stated purpose except in those instances where tree removal is necessary. I acknolwedge that in many instances they go hand in hand. But, I can think of 2 recent tear-downs on my street where the only large trees were along the rear boundary line, and no trees that would be subject to this moratorium were removed.

    Of course if cocnern over the tree canopy is only a ruse and your true purpose is something else, this makes a lot of sense.

    1. Indeed. A home in my neighborhood is about to be torn down and there won’t be any tree removal b/c the trees are all at the back of the lot. Demolition and tree removal are not necessarily related. You can regulate one without the other. Just as you can use one as a pretext for regulating the other.

      1. Dem, Yep. you know of a tear down that wont lead to trees being cut down, i know of a couple that did result in trees being cut down. Let’s slow things down for a bit and study whether these can be decoupled. Perhaps they can but let’s get some data. Isn’t that one of the goals of the moratorium?

        1. Why are they coupled together in the first place if no trees will be removed from a particular lot in connection with a demolition? Even if this moratorium designed to save the trees was a good idea, shouldn’t it only apply to demolitions wihch require tree removal?

    2. Mayor Pro Tem Kecia Cunningham asked if the demolition and tree removal had to be considered together, and Peggy Merriss said that is ultimately up to the City Commissioners to decide. So, I’m sure they’d welcome a discussion of that on here too! :0)

      The City’s very brief discussion happened during Reports and Other Business. All of the public input occurred during Requests and Petitions:

    3. On the other hand: Two homes bordering my property in Oakhurst were torn down this past year and replaced by large new homes — with more than 25 mature pines and hardwoods being removed in the process to accommodate the larger footprints and empty sodded lawns. It was like a logging operation came to town!

      1. Clearly you have never seen a logging operation at work. They most certainly don’t lay sod when they are done!

  2. In essence, a problem caused by high taxes is going to be “solved” by . . . making it a lot harder for older residents to monetize the large, unrealized gains in the values of their homes. I sure hope that when I become a senior citizen the government takes a whack at my property value. For my own good, of course.

    1. These older homes that are being torn down will immediately depreciate by 20% or more. There just isn’t a lot of demand for a $250,000 900 sq ft 2/1 which need an additional $100k of renovations.

      1. So are you saying that a $250,000 teardown becomes a $200,000 renovation that someone might buy, renovate, expand and try to flip for $450,000?

        If so, then I think that is exactly the impact that advocates for a demo moratorium are going for to try to tame the market and scale down the new builds, renovations.

        Not advocating one way or the other, but I think that is the whole point of this.

    2. well said, DEM. I think the people most hurt by this may be elderly folks trying to eke a nice retirement nest egg out of a Decatur home they no longer want to live in.

  3. Arlene Dean: “I’m in the process of purchasing a house from an elderly couple who don’t want to pay their taxes in November,” she said. “They can’t afford it.”

    Decatur Heights resident Babs Fiorentino: “I don’t believe these people,” she said. “There’s nowhere else to go in this area. … I don’t believe your threats.”


    1. I think this moratorium is geared more towards the developers buying and tearing down these little bungalows and not directed to the folks for want a biggr home on their existing property. I bought my bungalow over 17 years ago as a single woman with a modest income in what was then was a quiet neighborhood here in Decatur heights. Unfortunately if a single person or a family with a modest income one can not afford to purchase a home in the City of Decatur 17 years later because this area is now reserved for the upper middle class this is sad

      There are several tear downs 5 are on this street these homes are being thrown up and all look like cookie cutter card board mansions. They are huge monstrosities lucky I do not have one blocking my back yard view like so many now. The cutting trees down seems to go hand in hand to the size of these homes

      There is a program for seniors to defer their property taxes until the sale of their home Ms Dean may want to explain this to the elderly couple before (her deal ) goes thru.
      We have a real estate agent in this neighbor who thrives on negotiating tear downs for these sleaze developers.

      I guess I need to move where folks appreciate old trees and renovated old homes the few of us would like to sale are homes to folks who would love to live because of and the up grades and character kept we live i a whole new generation where new is better.

      But guess what they would have to offer alot more than the 250,000 when you want to buy mine reach deep in your pocket my reserve 320,000.00… ha ha I will wait.

        1. why is it sad that the demographics of the area are changing due to market conditions? are upper middle class people less entitled to live in Decatur than less affluent people? should we stifle the free market to engineer the demographic of the neighborhood to suit the preferences of certain people? sounds awfully draconian to me. things change, and we should all be thankful to live in an area that is growing instead of one that is decaying.

          1. the free market did not create the current decatur on its own. a lot of planning and regulations also went into it.

            1. that is true. but presumably better thought out planning than “hey, let’s just stop everything!”

  4. The meeting can be seen on the City of Decatur website. You can judge for yourself.

    I believe the most telling comment was from Mr. Lockman who stated that if you ask the people living next to the renovated homes now they would tell you that they prefer to live next to “those people” in the renovated home rather than “those people” in the unrenovated home. Oh, really? I beg to differ. Because I enjoy, or rather enjoyed, the diversity of Decatur. If the unrenovated houses are such a drain on our community and value of our homes then why doesn’t the sales data show lower home prices for the new homes surrounded by unrenovated homes rather than those among mostly new homes?

    As for the home prices. I looked at the home sales data and I just do not see any delta between the price paid for homes sold for demolition and the price paid for homes sold for renovation. The only variance I see is tied to lot size. @ DEM, it would seems that those that truly “monetize” from the teardown are not the elderly. I am certainly open to looking at other supporting data. I am also not opposed to a contractor making a profit, but I am not going to raise them to sainthood either.

    It does not take a unified report for me to see that the tree canopy has been impacted. It is not just the trees that are removed during demolition, it is also the trees impacted (by construction)and killed 6-12 months down the road both on the building lot and the surrounding lots. Whether or not it takeS a moratorium or not to fix this I don’t know, but I have to admit that the new homes around me either removed trees before construction or impacted a neighbor’s or a street tree and it died shortly after construction.

    1. “As for the home prices. I looked at the home sales data and I just do not see any delta between the price paid for homes sold for demolition and the price paid for homes sold for renovation”

      Of course not. Market forces apply to both equally, regardless of the intention of the purchaser. Although there are exceptions, sellers will typically sell to the highest bidder. So, if you want a reno, you have pay what builders are paying to tear the house down.

      The concern is not the price differential between current tear-downs and current renos. The concern is what happens if you remove the a ton of demand from the market, which will increase supply and result in a drop in prices. If that happens, current homeowners will lose out on unrealized gains.

    2. I do not think you can make those conclusions based on real estate data. Each house in unique and the decision whether to tear it down or renovate is dependent on many many other things that are not captured in those data.

  5. If I owned that $250k teardown, and saw $50k of the value of my property disappear due to more restrictive development policies, I would be incredibly ticked off. And if I were a fixed income retiree in that situation, my quality of life and financial security would be damaged.

    For those pushing this moratorium and establishing more stringent restrictions on property owners – you need to recognize that new restrictions create costs that will impact property values of small homes and the financial security of your neighbors.

    I would like to better understand how you believe the common good of our community is impacted by tear downs enough to justify hurting your neighbors who are looking to sell. Is this based on concerns around aesthetics? School growth and tax base? Stability of the community? Fear of change?
    I am not trying to be combative – I really want to understand.

    1. Pierce, My understanding is that part of the goal of the moratorium is precisely to address questions like yours (or buy some time to do so).

      So, I dont view your questions as combative but rather perfectly in line with what many are asking: what are the pros and cons to tearing down houses and letting outside, profit drive interests at least partially shape our community. It seems to me there is a large set of unanswered questions right now how much tear downs are “hurting our neighbors” and in what ways are people being hurt (or benefiting). Let’s think about how best ot answer those in a meaningful way.

      1. Outside, profit driven interests aren’t shaping the community. Rather, the demands of your future neighbors are behind this growth. If there was no demand, there would be no money to be made, and these developers would be stuck with an unwanted house and lots of debt, and noone would be tearing down houses.

        1. “Outside, profit driven interests aren’t shaping the community. Rather, the demands of your future neighbors are behind this growth.”

          Yes, they are. When Bob the Builder buys a house, tears it down, and makes another one, then Bob has indeed re-shaped the community. The reasons why he does are to make money. Sure it fulfills a demand but Bob is the one chose a particular action from the set of possible actions (of which there are many) to meet that demand. He does this buy choosing to build a 4/6 over a 2/3, to cut down a tree or not, etc.

        2. What evidence is there that there is no demand for houses that are less than 4000 square feet? I know of many, many young couples, semi-retire couples, same sex couples, singles, small familes, etc that would like a modest home in Decatur. I mean modest in size. There is not longer modest in price.

          The fact is builder can make more profit on tearing down a modest home and rebuilding a not so modest home. Period. Sure there is demand for that, but there is demand for modest housing as well. As you pointed out earlier it does not impact the profit of the homeowner, only of the builder.

          Communities with a variety of housing sizes and options perform better overall and over time than their homongenous counterparts. What happens if the Decatur’s school system no longer delivers on the education expectations of the year or the schools in Atlanta or other intown communities improves? That certainly would decrease all of our property values by 15-20%. It sure would be nice to have a diverse population (some who are here in spite of the schools) to smooth that impact.

          1. Good point, Sara. Besides the obvious point that not all of a community’s decisions should be based on supply and demand, you raise the less obvious point that demand is not always met but is instead created by offering only the more profitable alternative.

          2. Sara –
            Replacing small homes on normal lots with larger homes is going to happen – supply will expand to meet the demand. We live in a free market, and profit drives economic decisions. Profit is not evil. I would argue it is good, as it motivates a society to continue to improve. I realize you probably disagree, and you are entitled to your perspective.

            That being said, your interest in a diverse population with different types of residences are not going to be compromised by that trend. The largest expansion of residences we are facing right now is with several large, new developments of 1 and 2 bedroom apartments. These will provide affordable living options for lower income, fixed income and/or singles. There are also several townhome projects underway, to provide options for middle income families.

            We are not moving to a homogeneous community – our diverse community is adapting to market demands. You may not like these changes, but I would argue that restricting others’ property rights based on the aesthetic preferences of a vocal minority is… (I’m trying not to be combative here)… distasteful.

            1. Pierce, interested to know where you get the data to make claim on “vocal minority”? Comments from Decatur Metro isn’t a representative sample.

              1. Well, you caught me.
                I have not fielded an unbiased survey of the Decatur population. I made an assumption based on my experience.
                That being said, my statement stands. If a vocal minority is able to restrict the property rights of everyone, I find that distasteful. If my assumption is wrong, and these people represent the will of the majority, then our city should amend our development regulations to reflect the will of the population in a transparent and methodical manner.
                Enacting a moratorium is a severe reaction to a small group of individuals input. We don’t know if they represent the will of the majority.

                1. Even if they do represent the will of the majority, that doesn’t mean their will should be done.

                  1. Agreed. But we have empowered our local government to restrict property rights where it is in the interest of the community. Those restrictions should only be implemented in a transparent and methodical manner that draws on input from a broad swath of stakeholders.
                    While I may personally prefer a more hands-off, libertarian approach to governance, I have found that more “progressive” local policies can work at the local level, given an engaged population.

      2. Yes these are very important questions, but we as a community have been grappling with these questions for years. We will not have the answers by January. A moratorium will not serve to address these concerns except to placate a vocal group of constituents that want some action to be taken.

        A moratorium is a radical step that will have an impact on many people. I would like a clear demonstration of an acute crisis in order to justify this action.

        1. Yah, and I hope “moratorium on tear-downs” doesn’t somehow translate into “reason why we must shore up the tax base by annexing Emory Commons and Suburban Plaza.” (Ga Legislative session opens Jan 14). /paranoid?

          1. Well, that’s one way to reduce the tax burden on residential properties. I actually don’t have a problem with the city going after those commercial areas, even if it means picking up a few more residents. But the city limits don’t have to look pretty…

        2. Woulld the death of two trees on your property because of the construction next door be considered radical? What about the death of the three trees in the City of Decatur right of way that shaded your car or your walk on the side walk? What about the 25 trees that were on the three blocks surrounding your house that were part of the attraction to the home you purchased? I am just saying that one man’s radical is not everyone’s radical. We do not live in our own personal bubble, we live in a community.

          1. Just curious, but do you believe that you should have the right to dictate what another homeowner in your neighborhood does with his/her property because he/she might change something that was part of the initial attraction to your home? Forget differing opinions about the importance of tree canopies or the best way to insure a future canopy or the pros and cons (and by that, I mean direct tangible effects) of tear-downs, but do you think you acquired the right to maintain the status quo in you neighborhood as of the exact moment you decided it was the house for you? It seems to me that you just want your bubble to be bigger than everyone else’s.

            1. If we were just talking about people’s right to build large, ugly houses that look more suited to Alpharetta than Decatur, I’d tend to agree that it’s their right to do so. But if destruction of trees, which has a very tangible effect on quality-of-life, is part of the question, I think Sara makes some very valid points. Similar to the points others made about the possible traffic increases resulting from an increase in multifamily downtown (though those are only projections; the trees will definitely be gone).

          2. As a fellow tree-hugger I sympathize with the loss of trees. However this is a heavy-handed reaction to this problem. If builders are doing things that are resulting in tree loss, they should be appropriately fined. I also understand that regulating tree canopy is difficult, and penalizing for infractions is also difficult. However, I think it is over-reach to penalize everyone because of a few bad apples.

  6. I’ve got several comments and questions, so please bear with me here:

    1. This is the same city commission that refused to decide to put a much needed school construction bond referendum on the November ballot? NOW they are suddenly in a rush to _save_some_trees?

    2. I’m certainly no expert on trees, so perhaps someone can correct me if I’m wrong, but can’t new trees be planted? Do they grow up to be big trees? Please enlighten this layperson.

    3. “(The Mayor) noted that the moratorium was needed to limit an extended flurry of activity surrounding these two actions between now and the first stage of the Unified Development Code is set to be completed in January.”

    So wait – it seems like the new development code seems to be something that developers want to get in front of. Is that a fair assessment? Are developers rushing to tear down houses and cut down trees before a new set of regulations kicks in? And if so, then maybe we’ve got a bigger problem coming than a moratorium.

    4. I’m not aware of clear-cutting going on in Decatur, except maybe that development going on by the new bridge on S. Candler. Is this really a rampant problem? Or is this all about saving that one big old tree on Melrose?

    1. Re #3

      The Unified Development Code doesn’t necessarily create new regulations, though that can happen in the process. The UDC/UDO is a way to package current regulations into one document, and reviewing the current codes and regulations to make sure they relate to one another appropriately in the new format.

      Can’t help you on the other questions.

    2. You are correct. Some of the little 2-3 inch caliper trees will one day grow up to be big shade trees. Probably 20 -30 years and your are golden.

  7. I’m curious about what seems to be the carefully chosen phrase, “outside, profit-driven interests.” I’m not taking sides here on the moratorium. Only wondering if, because many of the homes I see going up are being built by people who live here in Decatur, it’s a way of disassociating ourselves from the reality that the moratorium potentially undermines the livelihood of a certain number of Decatur neighbors who, on the whole, have been operating within the parameters of the rules we’ve set up.

    Do we think of all the builders as outside money grubbers so we don’t have to acknowledge (or at least so we’ll feel better about) the fact that, to get what we want, we need to deprive someone else?

  8. So buying a teardown from someone who can no longer afford to live in Decatur is sad, bad and profit driven.

    Is it any different than buying a cute Decatur bungalow from someone who can no longer afford to live in Decatur and just moving in instead of tearing down?

    Prices are up because of the great location, great schools and great downtown restaurants.

    1. M1,

      I think/suspect/hypothesize that some people actually like the look of small brick bungalows. It sort of defines at least parts of Oakhurst and provides some visual continuity to the neighborhood. So, under this theory, yes, buying a cute Decatur bungalow is different than a tear down.

  9. Will you help me understand the impact. Do I want this or not.

    I own a 1450 +/- sqft cottage in Oakhurst with a large yard and driveway, renovated in 2000 & a 2nd bath/screen porch added in 2008. Based on market trends I think I could sell between 350-400k. Current tax appraisal is under 280k.

    Not trying to sell but could if price was right.

    1. I can’t see how any of this would have any impact on a house in good condition or one over $300,000 or so.

      It could certainly impact prices negatively on the low end for houses that are teardown candidates or need a significant amount of work. If less builders are fighting over each other to buy a teardown or rehab, then the price could go down some for sure, but by how much is really anyone’s guess. But Arlene Dean’s saying that the $300,000 offer she has would only be worth $150,000 if this goes into effect is not believable. There are too many people trying to get into our school system that a house in almost any condition that went on the market for $150,000 would be sold in a matter of seconds.

      My guess is that low end prices may be negatively impacted 15-20%. Large new construction houses would probably go up in value. If you can’t build new ones then that limits supply and would drive up the prices on that type of housing stock.

      1. Not so, Marty. We have a 1200 Sq ft 3/1 that we could sell for $300K cash tomorrow. Take away the buyer’s ability to expand or demo and the selling price would be closer to $150K. It would MAYBE fetch $190-200K. The hit is going to be much closer to 33-50% for those of us with unrenovated or unexpanded houses. I can’t help but look at this as a “we’ve got ours but we don’t want you to get yours” ploy. Of course, we still have to pay the school taxes even though we don’t have room for kids and wouldn’t be able to sell for a high enough price to be able to afford to move!

        1. Unless your place is falling apart, this seems doubtful. I know several people want to move into nice,livable houses in Decatur and want to pay in the 300K.

          1. It’s not falling apart and it’s not doubtful. Talked to several agents and appraisers last year about it when we refinanced. But if you want to indemnify me against the loss you think we won’t face if this crap passes, I’ll draw up the paperwork.

        2. I don’t know anybody who is talking about taking “away the buyer’s ability to expand” a home. That may be something you imagined in your head, but it’s not in evidence anywhere.

          We are talking about whether there should be a 3 month period where demolitions would be prohibited. No one has seen the proposed legislation to determine where the line will be drawn between demolition, redevelopment, expanding an existing structure. Again, maybe J_T has imagined where that line will be drawn, but its not on paper anywhere to my knowledge.

          And then, after the 3 month period, the presumption is that the city could have a new proposal for regulations on demolitions or building standards. Again, nobody knows what that might look like, but it is certainly not going to completely prohibit someone from expanding a small home.

          I know of several homes in my immediate area that are 1200 sq feet or smaller, but that were in relatively good condition, that sold for $300,000 plus. These homes have not been torn down or even expanded, but are being occupied as is by families with multiple children who apparently wanted their kids to attend Decatur schools.

          I don’t know whether the 3 month demolition moratorium is a good idea or not (the devil might be in the details), but I just don’t buy the idea that prices are going to crash in Decatur because of it.

          1. Crash permanently? No. But during the moratorium it is all but certain that any attempt to sell will be badly compromised, as the message thus far is that Decatur isn’t sure if it likes large houses or the type of tree removal often necessary to build them. The uncertainty over what the final code will look like will chill the market for sure. If the resulting code is reasonable, maybe things spring back to normal. But, if you needed to sell between now and the end of Jan 2014, looks like you’re SOL.

            1. I’m no economist, but if the moratorium does go through and anyone ends up being SOL, it may only be only those smaller and/or dilapidated homes that are candidates for tear downs. On the other hand, the resulting reduction of available $300K housing stock could push up the value of existing homes at or near that price point. So for those with a nice big house and looking to move, this may be a golden opportunity.

              1. That is probably true, and is interesting, as it would result in a pretty significant transfer of wealth from owners of tear downs to owners of existing large homes. Just another “unintended consequence” of ostensibly progressive values and policies?

          2. Crash prices across Decatur? Of course not. Torpedo an individual sale and trap the seller in a home they can’t afford for another tax cycle? Very possibly. Most buyers, even if they don’t require a master suite, great room, capacious closets, etc. for their own foreseeable future, are cautious about investing in a home with known restrictions/limitations on renovations to expand it. Understandably so.

            We all depend on the fact that the world keeps turning, and the City ought to do what the rest of us do — scramble like crazy to think and act on our feet. The idea of calling “time out” in this context is absurd IMO. As others have noted, these issues do not represent a new or sudden trend. Wasn’t the Infill Task Force–which consumed enormous time, effort & resources 8-9 years ago–supposed to put us out ahead of at least some of this stuff?

          3. Marty, if after the moratorium the commission doesn’t make any meaningful changes to the ordinances re: demolition of homes and/or tree removal, the 3 month period will be a hiccup (although it could be very detrimental to many individuals). My concern (and I know I am taking a huge chance in speaking for him, but I think J_T’s too) is that the commission would not consider this moratorium unless big changes are coming, or, at a minimum, big changes are being heavily considered. Why else would such a drastic measure be on the table?

            1. It scares me to say this, DawgFan, but you’re absolutely right on that. Or maybe we are just both wildly overimaginative like Marty suggests!

            2. Why else? Perhaps they are capitulating a group of incredibly squeaky wheels. The only other speculation I can make is that they hadn’t thought through every possible scenario and the hardship this could cause for various people in the process of buying/selling/renovating. Neither scenario is good but the second is especially scary considering their job is to make incredibly important decisions.

              1. I tend to think it was a knee-jerk reaction to the vocal minority on the tree issue. Yes, it requires more thought and analysis, but the Commission wanted to quiet those voices at least temporarily.

                1. I think you are right, and I think that quieting people for their own sanity is not a good way to make policy. I tend to believe the anti-mcmansion folks and save the trees at any cost to property rights folks are the same group. The commissioners had to know when they signed up for the gig that they would be facing various relentless groups and activists for this and that, and they should be able to deal with them without such drastic measures.

                  1. What about people who are anti-mcmansion but also anti-moratorium? How would you categorize them? (Us, I should say.)

                    This struggle to deal with infill development has been going on for years and it’s quite complicated. There are many intertwined issues that don’t boil down into simple, yes/no up/down choices. I know people who have stood side by side in favor or against various policies with equal fervor and for spectacularly different reasons. I don’t think it’s quite as simple as you’re making it out to be, although I agree wholeheartedly that this moratorium is not a good idea.

                    1. I think there’s a lot of people who find big homes on not so large lots, especially ones way out of character with the neighborhood distasteful, maybe even go so far as to say huge eyesores. But I don’t think a majority of those would say “I don’t ever think under any circumstance whatsoever should a home of x size ever be built in the community on a teardown site” because not every lot is small like those in Oakhurst. There are some really large lots on W. Po. and applying the exact same law to them as to one on Sycamore, especially an outright moratorium to stop something that’s not an issue there makes no sense. Especially when there are codes in place already.

                      A poster here brought up something really interesting on this earlier, why does an average Joe have issues getting variance approval, but big developers get them? Maybe that’s something the commissioners need to answer.

                      And if the tree cutting by developer rules need to be reexamined or strengthened why not do that, and that alone? This whole thing is strange and extreme but I have a feeling by the end of it, there will be a permission slip and $$$ needed for a private citizen to have a tree cut, which is totally obnoxious.

                2. Hmmm, interested to know where you get the data about the vocal minority? How do you know this is just a small group of folks?

                  1. 100+ people signed the tree petition in August (and a quarter or so of them don’t live here and were just signing a “Save the Trees” petition b/c someone emailed them a link to it). That is a minority of Decatur residents.

                    1. My husband and I signed the tree petition – but we had no idea it would spiral into this. If asked again today, we’d both decline. I’d bet most signatures on the petitions also belong to folks who are not in favor of extreme measures.

      2. This is true. You can’t get anything in CSD for under $200,000 that isn’t tiny, ancient, in need of serious renovations, or all of the above. That isn’t going to change with this moratorium.

  10. A moratorium on tear-downs/ rehabs will obviously reduce demand for these houses. A tear-down is defined in this market as anything around $300k or less, pretty much depending on lot size (wow I never thought I’d hear that). So anyone who owns a house valued at $300k or less will have demand for their property go down as a result of this.

    Will this affect property values? I think that it will suppress prices for the sub-$300k market. It may also constrain supply for existing renovated houses, driving the prices of these even higher.

  11. I hope the City Commision considers the people who are in the process of planning for home additions with the hopes of taking advantage of the low interest rates that will soon rise. Interest rates can rise a lot in 3 months and it’s unfair for the city to spring this moratorium on current residents with very little warning.

    I get the whole tree preservation bit, but to tell someone they can’t add on to their house because you need to get your arms around a flurry of activity doesn’t sit well. This activity has been going on for the past 2 years.

    1. If the fed gummit misses a debt payment during the shutdown, you will see interest rates rise a lot, and quickly.

    2. rising interest rates are a real concern, debt default or not. Commissioners, please de-couple the tree moratoreum from the demo/reno moratoreum.

  12. They tore down the house across the street last week. I bet the offer price will jump if the moratorium goes through. Supply and demand! Location, location, location.

  13. For those who have not yet bought their $800,000 house or are panicking because they cannot renovate themselves into one, just a non-political, non-financial piece of advice. Remember that bigger is not automatically better. Higher quality is better. Bigger means more to clean, more to get run down, more to need repainting, more fingermarks, more hours of vacuuming and dusting, more cobwebs in the high ceilings, more dust bunnies under more furniture. All new or newly renovated homes look great initially. In 10 years, not so much. In 20, even less. The market focusses on square footage. I would focus instead on quality of construction and features, and what you really want. Many children actually like sharing a room better than sleeping alone until the teen years at which point they are out of there anyway. The more rooms, the bigger the closets, the more attic, the more garage, the more junk can accumulate and have to be dealt with eventually. Having to regularly go through your possessions and cull the unnecessary is a good thing. Remember those huge colonial homes of the 1950s-1970s?–they ended up just as dated and needing of renovation as the smaller homes of that era.

    Size of home may be the primary determinant of market price but it’s not the primary determinant of enjoyment of the home.

    1. Echoing Scott’s thoughts about why so many label these builders as “outside, money grubbers”, why do so many believe/say that these new homes are built poorly? Yes, there are builders who cut too many corners. But, I also know a couple of builders who still take price in their work and make sure they build a quality home.

      1. This thread is rife with over generalizations. Some new houses are built well and not every house under $300,000 in Decatur is a dilapidated eyesore. Many of the cutest houses, such as the 2/1 craftsman bungalows would be in this price range.

        I live in an old house with a new edition and while the new edition is well built the materials available nowadays (such as wood) are of a lesser quality than those of the original house. Prior to this house we lived in a 1920’s craftsman bungalow that was not fancy (no granite countertops or garden tub) but the house was extremely well built and completely charming.
        I personally prefer old houses and moved to Decatur specifically to live in one and to live in a charming old neighborhood. I have absolutely no idea if liking old houses Is the majority or minority opinion in our city. I also like trees. I don’t think there should be a moratorium on remodels, particularly those that don’t involve tree removals, but I do think the tear down and tree issue should be discussed as a community.

  14. How can we stop this moratorium from happening? It seems like our local goverment has been hijacked by extremists who want to force their own personal aesthetics down everyone else’s throats and dictate what others can or cannot do with their private property.

    I know there is a certain set of folks who find the idea of making a profit or living in a “large home” distasteful, but since when do we all have to get in line and obey them at the expense of the rest of our community?

    We have owned a home in Deactur for nearly a decade, and we are VERY happy to see our community growing and thriving and becoming an even better place to live. People who object to abandoned or poorly kept homes being replaced with new construction clearly are not familiar with the broken windows theory of urban development. As others have pointed out, if someone wants to cash in and make a profit on a home they can’t afford to keep up any more….who does it benefit to stop them?

    Change is going to happen. Let’s make sure it is GROWTH and increasing our tax base with nice new homes by people who WANT to live here – not allowing abandoned homes to fester and holding people who want to sell/build hostage to the desires of a vocal few.

    1. If all homes being demolished and replaced were abandoned and/or in disrepair, you’d be right. Unfortunately, that’s not the case at all. I think this moratorium is a bad idea and I also think they should uncouple it from trees. But I also think a lot of reasonable people have legitimate concerns about the direction that infill development has taken in Decatur. This approach seems to me heavy-handed and sideways (my primary objections to the proposed Oakhurst Historic District several years ago), but it’s completely understandable why people get worked up sufficiently that something like this can get any traction. I hope the City can make better headway than previously, in terms of coming up with EFFECTIVE ways to guide development without stifling the community’s natural growth and evolution.

    2. if someone owns an abandoned home, why should “extremists who want to force their own personal aesthetics down” their throat “dictate what” they “can or cannot do with their private property”? it’s their property, they should be able to let it fester according to your arguments, no?

        1. so you’re saying what one does with her/his property has an effect on the community that should be taken into account and that the ‘it’s my property and i’ll do whatever i want to with it’ view doesn’t hold water?

          1. Give us a break. People seeking to put an end to demos are doing so for aesthetic reasons, and no matter how hard you try to re-frame the conversation, you can’t change that fact. But, to answer you question, yes it holds water. It is damn near watertight except for those instances where an action or inaction poses an actual risk or unreasonably interferes with your neighbors’ rights (which don’t extend across boundary lines). Not wanting to feel envious b/c your neighbor lives in a bigger house doesn’t qualify as such a risk or interference. Perhaps the difference and nuance between making aesthetic decisions for your neighbor and public safety/infringement on actual property rights are too difficult for you to grasp.

            1. i didn’t say anything about your fact. and your argument might hold water if we’re talking about house size and house size alone. i was referring also to tree cutting aspect of this discussion. which has effects that extends beyond boundary lines, funnily enough like water retention and runoff issues.

              but i guess if anyone who disagrees with your point of view is only doing so for aesthetic and envy reasons, than i can clearly see how right you are in summarily dismissing any and all of their arguments. unfortunately, i’m not as convinced as you are of the simplicity of the situation.

              1. adding that i’m not convinced the moratorium is a good idea. nor do i think that coupling the teardown restriction with the tree removal one is a good idea. and i don’t have a problem with people building big houses.

          2. For years, the city has done nothing about homes that are in bad shape or abandoned. (at least not those in an immediate easy walk from my house) Changes only took place when the owners were ready to cash in. By making it more difficult/impossible to do a tear down, even for a short period of time, that could potentially stop the positive momentum in my neighborhood. Why such drastic action now, and why in response to this group?

            I fully understand that not all homes being torn down around town are in the distressed category, but I can only speak to what I see in my corner of Decatur.

            As for picking apart my arguments and analyzing if X means Y, etc….I think DawgFan explained it well for me already. 🙂 Bottom line is, I just want my kids to grow up in the best, safest neighborhood possible, I like it when my property value increases, and I’d like the option to build a larger home in a few years while staying in Decatur.

  15. The market doesnt necessarily focus on square footage. I have worked with many home buyers, and quality makes a big impact. The appraisers and developers often focus on Square footage, which of course if easier to assess and assign a value to.

    Its seems like it would make a lot of sense to split the moratorium decision into two — one about the trees, which are pretty much irreplaceable within a certain time frame, and one about the teardowns and renovations which are bound to continue for many reasons, I think.

    Despite the proposal its still unclear exactly what the issues are that the moratorium would address. At least I cant tell from reading the proposal. I guess its reasonable to assume some people want changes to current regulations which they think can be hammered out in 3 months.

  16. Do the Mayberry types live in the 900 s/f dwellings and the Berkeley types live in the MacMansions?

        1. 1948, 1200 sq ft. I hate you Richie McRich MegaBungalow dwellers. When the hell is Obama going to socialize this joint like the Republicans promised so I can has your house?!?

  17. Here in Decatur Heights, many of the homes that have been torn down recently were abandoned and in terrible disrepair.

    Can someone please explain to me why an abandoned boarded up house is a better addition to our neighborhood than a brand new home occupied by people who want to invest in Decatur???

    1. So glad the City is taking a careful look at this important issue. We have won awards to being so innovative and sustainable but the truth is our tree protection program is inconsistent and discriminatory against homeowners who wish to renovate verses developers who want to do complete teardowns and cut all the trees on the property.

      For more info, read the petition at

      The recommendations are largely based on a recent evaluation of Decatur’s Tree Protection Program by a national expert. The Enhanced Tree Protection Petitions (3 so far) contain over 700 signatures to date from residents across the City. Please consider signing on as well.

      1. Thanks for posting that. Here’s the “crisis” the apparently justifies this moratorium:

        “Tree canopy cover in Decatur has decreased 4% over the last 17 years.”

        4% in 17 years.

        1. And accoridng to their very own petition, a portion of that is attributed to “more and larger commercial…developments”. Why not seek a moratorium on all development?

        2. I’m a silver-linings kind of guy so maybe this number actually carries with it some good news. Considering how many trees in Decatur are currently aging-out (because they were all planted in or around the same era 80-100 years ago) or being lost in the course of development, I would think losses would be considerably greater than 4%.

          Perhaps the difference is the significant commitment we’ve actually made towards tree plantings, such as the 400 we’ve planted downtown. If that’s the case, with just a little bit more commitment to planting we could maintain a totally balanced canopy of old and new growth. Which is actually what you need in order to address the problem moving forward on a sustainable basis.

          What am I missing? If a small uptick in plantings would put us where we need to be, what accounts for the emotionally charged nature of what’s happening now? Is it just that the big old trees are deeply loved (something I understand, as I have two of them)?

    2. The houses being torn down must vary by neighborhood. I doubt anyone has an issue with dilapidated or condemned houses being torn down. In my neighborhood the vast majority of the tear downs have merely been small but inhabitable houses or even medium sized houses that were built on a large lot that could be subdivided and 2 houses built. Most, but not all, that I know of have been done by developers. I don’t know as much about what’s happening in most of the other neighborhoods. Our opinions are all colored by our particular experiences. Maybe a city-wide discussion would help us all gain a city-wide perspective.

  18. I think everyone’s point about the City Commissioners trying to delay making a decision here is a valid one.

    We have had several infill task forces, zoning code review boards, strategic plan, historic preservation debates, etc. over the last years. I’m not sure what another study for 3 months is going to change.

    I think they probably know where they want to do with regard to the current situation, but they just want some cover. They ought to put the changes they want to make before the public and vote on them. That could be done by the next meeting in 2 weeks.

    1. You could be right that they already know what they want to do. If I had to bet my own money, I’d say they want to get draconian about trees and want to leave the rest of it more or less alone for the time being. Tying it all together creates cover from multiple directions.

  19. Reading through this thread… Something struck me.
    I am grateful to Decatur Metro for moderating a thoughtful and entertaining forum for us to discuss the local issues of the day.
    Compared to the typical online discourse, these discussions are actually constructive dialogues. It doesn’t hurt that there are some very funny comments as well.
    Kudos to DM for the public service provided by this forum. Even if it IS for profit. 😉

  20. Hopefully a huge resource shortage doesn’t hit our society one day. Oversized houses that need to be heated and cooled can turn into multi-family tenement housing real quick during an economic fall out. There’s actually a lot more security in smaller homes. But alas….”The more things change, the more they stay the same…”

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