Decatur UDO Idea #1: R-50 Residential District

There are many changes/updates being considered as part of the Unified Development Ordinance process, many of which were reviewed in a public meeting last night.  If you couldn’t make the meeting, you can check out this DecaturNext recap.  Over the next few days, DM will highlight the various changes being considered so no one is surprised once the UDO is completed later this year.  First up – R:50!

One part of the Unified Development Ordinance process is create new and updated zoning districts to “reflect the character of the existing residential and neighborhood commercial areas, or that serve an unmet need identified in the 2010 Strategic Plan.”  What is it? Why? and Where?  Here’s the answer straight from the presentation

  • WHAT IS IT? Allows 50 feet wide lots and includes urban design requirements so new houses are in harmony with the character of neighborhoods.
  • WHY? Much of the traditional residential fabric of Decatur is zoned R-60, although many lots are 50 feet wide. This new district would reflect the character of these older lots.
  • WHERE? Proactively mapped by the City or applied for by neighborhoods.

12 thoughts on “Decatur UDO Idea #1: R-50 Residential District”


  1. Question: Can someone clarify the R-50 v. R-60 concept; I don’t understand what “allows” 50′ lots means. For example, my lot is zoned R-60 and is 64′ wide. I’m assume it would remain R-60. Right? Does that simply mean that lots currently zoned R-60 that are less than 60′ in width would be simply renamed for their appropriate width, eg R-50 or is there something else to it?

    As far as old houses go, has anyone considered that sometimes they are just beyond saving or way too expensive to restore, especially smaller ones? I hope to restore mine, but if I had to sink upwards of 200k into it to restore it properly, I’d likely price myself out of the market (and be dead broke). I wonder how the residents 80-100 years ago would have reacted?

    Besides that, there seems to be a lot of proposed ongoing monitoring with these new regulations (trees, houses). Is this really necessary, who is performing it, and who is paying for it?

    The conservation districts might be a knee jerk reaction to redevelopment, but I would be leery of them including more than just demolitions and new construction. To me it sounds more like “we couldn’t justify establishing a historic district for your house, so we’re going to create our own version.”

    1. It seems to me like the city is trying to find a balance. So nobody will be completely happy but maybe we can all live with the result?

      1. In a situation where there’s a clearly defined, actual problem, most people are happy to work toward the best solution via compromise, myself included. Implement best practices, when applicable? Sure! I’d love to make my house greener, especially with incentives. By all means, build out mixed use, townhomes, etc; that’s what the East Decatur Station LCI was supposed to be all about. I love new options. This isn’t an attack, I think you’re just looking for the silver lining. The question is: What is there to balance? A few people banging drums because someone else tore down the odd house or cut down a tree doesn’t mean there’s a crisis.

        Naturally, many of the codes could use some updating, but there are some troubling parts about these proposals regarding control and to whom it is granted. Rather than use incentives, which a smart government would do, the city wants to control people’s actions via restrictions. The conservation district would delay demolition and subject your plans to a public hearing. So the neighbors get to have control over my development now? They have no idea what’s in my family’s best interest and who knows what their agenda is. You can’t get 3 people to agree on which is the best ice cream flavor or movie, if they even like them. Good luck with that, it will create a lot of bickering. And how much will this delay cost me? The city wants to keep tabs on homeowners to see if they’re maintaining their houses? What if conditions changed and they can’t afford it or the house isn’t worth it? Who benefits from this? The tree ordinance would lock your property in place via conservation easements and only represents the interests of certain special interests. An arborist would regularly inspect the city’s streets and private properties for canopy growth. All of this government monitoring is not cheap, either.

        Nothing is broken right now. If the city wants to encourage preservation, they should start with public lands and only approach the private side via incentives. People will happily volunteer to do things to help their communities when feasible; even more so if they personally gain. The moment you try to force people to do things with a heavy hand, you’ve broken the social contract everyone refers to. That is not what a progressive government does. So is this really about preservation or certain interests gaining control?

    2. Residential zoning defines the buildable area and size of lot. As a general rule R-50 means the lot has to have 50′ of street frontage, R-60 has to have 60′, R-75 needs to have 75′, etc…. Zoning generally applies to areas vs specific lots (ie: you would have one lot zoned R-50 right next to an R-60, R-75). They are designed to standardize streets, neighborhoods, etc…..

      Setbacks, buildable areas, min/max Sq Ft are all dictated by the zoning of a neighborhood.

      Much of Decatur was already rezoned R-50 in the last plan. In your case (same as mine) your 64′ lot is probably zoned R-50 and subject to the rules that govern R-50 building.

    3. A large percentage of Decatur’s R60 lots are roughly 50′ wide. That was the historic norm but many decades ago, probably in the 60s when the zoning was applied, a 60′ standard was in vogue and that’s what got applied, making a huge number of lots what’s called “legal, non-conforming.”

      Since that time, there’ve been stop-gap measures to deal with this. Most notably, lots under 60′ wide have a sliding scale formula applied to the R60 lots to bring things like setbacks and building height in line with the realities of a smaller lot. Basically measures to compensate for the fact that the zoning bears no relationship to the physical reality.

      The R50 designation just creates a zoning class that matches actual size, providing rules for lots roughly 50′ wide, just as R60 provides them for 60′-ish lots and R85 provides them for the big stuff.

    4. Agree with you 100%. Many of these tear downs have outlived their useful life anyway. I am no zoning expert but wont R-50 further restrict buildable areas and max SF on a lot? This will deter home owners wanting to renovate their home. Developers will still build too – new buyers will either pay the same for a smaller home or lesser quality built home….or land values have to come down which makes your tear down worth less. Trees: 1. Homeowner: 0.

      1. Honestly, in order for cities to be successful, they have to constantly change and adapt. This is also what imparts their unique character, hence the different styles of houses around Decatur that were built in different decades. What if the Oakhurst castle hadn’t been allowed to be built way back because it didn’t fit some neighbors’ aesthetic preferences? Trying to keep something frozen in time or aesthetically the same only dooms the area to stagnation and lower property values. Besides, while the newer built houses are larger, their styles still pretty much fit in with the rest of the neighborhoods, lots of Foursquare styles, modern Craftsman models, etc., while serving modern needs and wants. The majority of people in Decatur are pretty like-minded and already strive to live similarly. Is there an actual problem that requires fixing or is this a special interest group with a control-oriented agenda trying to create a problem for their solution. Rule #1: never mess with a cash cow, especially when the economy starts improving.

        I’m no expert, either, but it’d be interesting to see a financial model based on the changes. Either way, couple that with the proposed tree ordinance, and you really won’t ever be able to remodel your house, whether due to cost or space. The result will instate 2 divergent house categories: those that are already fully built out as desired and those that aren’t. I can’t see buyers flocking to invest in a remodel they’re stuck with as-is. As a result, property values for unfinished remodels would definitely go down, which really hurts the city’s overwhelmingly residential-heavy tax revenues. So much for affording your school bond referendum. For those who can sell their fixer uppers, the developers, who can afford to pay whatever fees, will gladly snap up the houses at lower cost and build as they please. Following your lead: Trees 2, Homeowners -1 (for loss of value). That’s why I think it’s odd there isn’t a cost benefit analysis or any financial detail provided; I bet they know homeowners wouldn’t buy it.

        I’d be interested to see how many of the commissioners and supporters of these proposals have remodeled their house or had tree work performed over the last couple years to set themselves up nicely…

        Also, I thought we had an annexation war to attend to. Why is that not priority #1 right now? Who in their right mind would add in all of these unilateral rule changes and restrictions right before the game begins and before the players have picked teams? For all of Decatur’s amenities, the idea that extreme special interests are in control would definitely scare me away, especially considering the developments in other areas.

        1. “I’d be interested to see how many of the commissioners and supporters of these proposals have remodeled their house or had tree work performed over the last couple years to set themselves up nicely…”

          Me too. As someone with a small, unrenovated 1948 house who bought with the goal of eventually renovating and (tastefully) enlarging, I don’t want to be told I can’t do that by people who already have!

  2. In our neighborhood almost all of the lots are 50′ wide. It was subdivided in 1905 and was not part of Decatur then. Most lots in our neighborhood are zoned R-60 but many do not meet those zoning regs such as side yard setbacks. I suspect R-50 regs will match what already exists in neighborhoods such as mine.

    1. Thanks for the clarification everyone. So it’s to adjust the setbacks and other space requirements appropriate for 50′ lots so they don’t overbuild the lot. Makes sense.

      1. I thought it was to create a way for them to give some latitude on small lots, so you can build something besides a lighthouse. (Two 15′ side setbacks don’t leave much room to maneuver on a 50′ wide lot.)

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