Decatur UDO Idea #2: Missing Middle District

missing middle

Up next on the laundry list of suggested zoning updates for the Unified Development Ordinance process, a new zoning designation: the “Middle Middle District”.  Again, here’s the description from the presentation from a couple days back.

WHAT IS IT? Allows urban, medium-density residential uses:

  • Small lot-single-family homes
  • Duplexes
  • Cottage courts
  • 4- and 6-unit buildings resembling houses

WHY? Existing multifamily district promotes incompatible development. The new district would provide housing options for residents who want to downsize, but don’t want to live in a large multifamily building in Downtown.

WHERE? Only available for future rezoning.

Illustration and photo courtesy of DecaturNext

21 thoughts on “Decatur UDO Idea #2: Missing Middle District”

  1. Doesn’t look like 55% canopy to me, show the amount of trees in the rendering to make it realistic. Cant wait to see what 55% canopy coverage looks like on the urban typology…

    I guess an urban environment like downtown Decatur will soon be illegal as of right. Or you’ll have to pay through the nose to do it.

    Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have a problem with the zoning revisions so far, just have serious concerns about the tree ord. which are not reflected on the renderings…and the pictures do not necessarily reflect what would really need to be installed.

    1. Exactly! The new tree ordinance basically calls for 4 large trees per house. This illustration shows 1 per 5 houses. Not even Photoshop can meet the new requirements of the tree ordinance. The other ridiculous thing about the proposed ordinance is that it penalizes you even if you never take down a tree or hurt a root system. If you don’t have an arbitrary canopy rate of 55% on a property you want to “disturb ” by 10% – you are punished by having to bring it up to a 55% canopy . And if you are required to do on site storm water retention by engineering regs …. What then? Do willows count as canopy trees ? Will the arborist be able to over ride engineering – or vice versa?

      1. Think about the commercial side, too. Existing, built-out businesses won’t be impacted, like in downtown and the Oakhurst CBD; just new developments, like in East Decatur Station.

        Do you think anyone would still build a new business in Decatur on an undeveloped lot (already an expensive endeavor), since the ordinance would force them to scale back their building plans significantly to cover 55% of the lot with trees? Nowhere surrounding Decatur does… So long, new tax revenue.

        In the UDO, what’s the story behind the pygmy goats? That seems very specific, like “Everyone can come, except Ted, because his sister smells like soup.” Is there a pygmy goat cheese business hidden around here?

  2. There’s an example of a similiar type of development at the corner of Northern and Montgomery here in Ponce Terrace (are you sure that’s what it’s called?) where 3 or 4 R-60 lots were turned into 8 homes (2 on a lot) with smaller homes, smaller yards, and interestingly long driveways.

    Not sure when they were built, but they’re certainly newer than the 1930’s and 1940’s cottages on the rest of the street. Not bad for lawn maintenance, too small for big families (although the surrounding houses are growing larger) but with access to schools, city services, and coffee, restaurants, yoga, and really good shephards pie within 2 blocks.

    They’re definitely at a lower price point than the rest of the neighborhood, so they may be attractive to empty nesters and first time homebuyers. The zoning must be grandfathered as well as I haven’t seen anything similar anywhere else in the immediate area.

  3. These are being built as second homes and retirement communities in SC and FL. Small but practical if you don’t want a yard.

  4. You know the small parking lot by Eddies attic? I think it used to be the Decatur Theater way back when…how would that be developed with 55% coverage? I remember seeing a rendering of that site to be developed before the great recession…

    1. I think the assumption is that no one whose zoning allows for full or near-full parcel development would compromise, for example, a downtown infill project to meet the tree requirements. They would simply pay into the tree bank in lieu of onsite plantings.

      1. Thinking about it….even worse….the developer could decide to go ahead a put trees in. The would force them fundamentally to introduce a suburban typology into a very urban environment.

        1. Have you guys watched the recorded video of the presentation from this week? If not, take the time. I watched it this afternoon, here were my takeaways:

          1. The presentation was really disorganized and severely lacking details. Comments like “legal hasn’t reviewed this proposal yet” (!?) and responses like “I can’t really think of examples of trees right now” and “Q: How much would that cost residents? A: Uh, I don’t know.” instilled a lot of confidence. No cost benefit analysis, fee schedule. How has this gotten this far again?

          2. Pretty cavalier attitudes. Us simple peasants had better roll over and take it if we know what’s good for us. Can’t wait to see what they want next. I loved the comments about the 85 year old and giddiness about tearing down commercial buildings. What if the Iberian Pig burned down? Where would the trees go?

          3. The current $3400 fee example that increases to $6187 or so (don’t have notes in front of me) equals an 81.9% increase. This is about control and revenue. What happens when the unnamed arborist (forest manager (!?)) wants a raise?

          4. They seem dead set and were disappointed they couldn’t impose it right away, especially on current residents who might want to remodel.

          See you at the meeting on Jan 21.

          1. I know folks here have beaten this tree ordinance to death already, but I can’t help but think that this is a good example of good intentions with unintended consequences.

            This could amount to a large fee for a private individual, which could change whether a homeowner decides to renovate (or gets a permit for that matter). But it won’t do anything to alter behavior of builders with teardowns because they will likely just pass the costs down to the buyers.

      2. You can only “tree bank” out of 75% of the requirement – so 14% coverage is the minimum you can go. So it acts as an additional tax on investment into our city as well as another control mechanism for city government: so now it’s Arborist, Engineering, and Development ( each with competing requirements I might add ). Also you are perhaps now branded “anti tree” for not willingly meeting the arbitrary 55% threshhold.

  5. Where’s the retention pond? Decatur requires one when you build more than one residence or lot at once – or something like that. That’s the reason there’s that eyesore in Oakhurst at the corner of Benson and Oakview – complete with a chain link fence.

    1. Residential development usually doesn’t include a retention pond unless you’re building a larger subdivision. Depending on the amount of disturbed area and impervious surface constructed, it may work out where any new runoff can be handled by public storm sewer infrastructure. But, if needed, you can build underground storm water retention, which makes for a better looking product in my opinion.

    2. Currently you’re required to do water detention if you subdivide a lot that has never previously been two lots of record. If the property used to be two (or multiple) lots, then combined, you can split them back to their previous lines and not have to do water detention. The detention requirement isn’t based on how many homes you’re building at one time, but seems like it since developers have frequently been buying and splitting larger lots.

      Water detention doesn’t have to be, and fairly often isn’t above ground. There are plenty of new homes in Decatur that have underground detention. Above ground is cheaper, but almost always uglier because of the fencing requirements. Spec house builds rarely spend extra money in designing and implementing aesthetically pleasing detention systems.

  6. FYI…all new single family construction requires a detention pond. Just went through this, building on one of the largest lots in Decatur, to the tune of $30k-$40k. Just love the big hole in my front yard. The impervious surface lot coverage of our home is only 14%. If we had a 50X150 lot (standard Decatur size), impervious allowage is over 60%. The capricious application of legal enforcement is unbelievable, and completely unchecked. Adding another individual with unchecked power is a HUGE mistake.

    1. Currently in Decatur, it’s not the case that all new single family construction requires a stormwater detention system.

      The are a few rules that determine whether or not stormwater detention is required.

      If you subdivide a lot into multiple lots that were not previously separate lots of record, you’re required to do detention.

      If your impervious coverage exceeds 4,058 sq ft (regardless of your lot size), you are required to do detention.

      If your total disturbed area during construction exceeds 10,000 sq ft (regardless of your impervious sq ft and regardless of your lot size) you are required to do detention. And as a extra little pat on the back, you’re also required to install a water quality system in your water detention system.

      I completely agree with you that not considering lot size in making this determination is crazy. You used to be able to do a lot size calculation to make the max impervious calculation, but apparently too many people were using the slightly complex formula in a way that made the City Engineer not happy.

      We redesigned our current build to come in under 4.058 sq ft after reading the language of the required easement that the city requires you to grant it to access your new detention system it forced you to build on your own property.

      Hopefully the UDO will have a more coherent and rational detention policy.

      1. Is there a difference between Detention and Retention? We have a space near our house that I always referred to as a Retention system. Are they the same thing?

        1. They are all technically called detention since you are temporarily detaining the stormwater. All of these systems have some sort of controlled outlet that releases the water at a controlled rate. Some ponds do retain some water until it evaporates off, but most underground systems fully discharge.

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