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Atlanta’s plan to boost density: City steps back, but doesn’t abandon its plan

By David Pendered

Atlanta has stepped back from, but not abandoned, plans to boost residential density in traditional neighborhoods after receiving more than 1,000 public comments on the original proposal, according to a revised draft of the plan, released Tuesday.

Atlanta’s plan to boost residential density no longer includes allowing a homeowners to sell the backyard for construction of a second dwelling. Credit: Atlanta

The revised plan outlines what it says are more than 50 revisions that have been made in response to comments submitted since stakeholder meetings began in October 2020. The housing density issue was the subject of many comments, according to the revised plan.

However, in addition to the revisions that are highlighted in the main document, an appendix to the main document includes language on how the city intends to pursue its original density recommendations

According to language in the appendix, the city’s intent is to campaign for its original residential density proposals in two venues: The lead-up to the release of the next draft of the document, on Sept. 13; and the implementation of these concepts into the nuts-and-bolts zoning codes that guide the city’s growth and development. The entire, revised document is to be adopted in October by the Atlanta City Council.

The document under review is the Atlanta Comprehensive Development Plan 2021. The CDP is the legal foundation of zoning. All zoning classifications are based on land uses for every parcel in the city, as designated in the CDP. When someone files a lawsuit to have a judge overturn a zoning, typically to allow a bigger development than is allowed under existing zoning, the city’s main line of defense is the land use for that parcel as designated in the CDP. The CDP is submitted to, and approved by, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Atlanta’s revised plan to provide more housing now would allow for dwellings such as garage apartments to be established in some, not all, areas of the city. Credit: Atlanta

The language in the appendix about the city’s intentions for its original plan observes:

  • “There were several discussions about where affordable housing should be built and whether to allow more density in Atlanta’s single-family neighborhoods.
  • “We acknowledge more space and time is needed for these discussions that affect residents’ lives.
  • “We will coordinate with our offices and other City departments to make sure the discussions occur in Phase 2 of Plan A, the Zoning Rewrite and any other legislation and citywide planning efforts related to development and infrastructure.”

Since the proposal became generally known in January, some residents have expressed concerns over the proposal to reshape Atlanta’s residential neighborhoods. This would result from the city’s plan to enable more dwellings to be built in existing neighborhoods of single-family detached houses. One method to do that is through a new land use designation for that site that would allow the backyard of the house to be sold for construction of second dwelling. In regards to parking, because so much of the land is now covered by dwellings, the city would eliminate the requirement to provide parking on site. All vehicles would be allowed to park on the street.

Increased residential density could lead to more vehicles in neighborhoods. One proposal would allow all vehicles to be parked on streets, rather than at least one to be parked on the property. Credit: Atlanta

Tree advocates have joined homeowners in expressing concerns about the density proposal. Using the example of a new dwelling built in a backyard, the existing trees would have to be cut down. The city’s response in the appendix was that the city’s proposed tree ordinance will handle this issue. The tree ordinance has been under review for years.

The revised draft CDP cites revisions in the initial plan under the heading of “Housing and Community Planning.” These revisions include:

  • Accessory dwelling units: The revision allows them to be built in some areas of the city. The original plan called for them to be allowed citywide;
  • Missing middle housing: The revision supports an ordinance to allow construction in single family neighborhoods of townhouses, duplexes, apartments and other multifamily residences. The original plan would have implemented this ordinance;
  • Definition of family: Family, as used in “single family zoning,” will continue to be defined as relatives. The revision calls for “updating” this definition. The original pla would have removed the definition of family, and thus any group of individuals could reside in a single family zoning area;
  • Minimum lot sizes: The revision leaves this code intact. The original version would have eliminated minimum lot sizes;
  • Subdividing a residential lot and selling a piece for another residence: The revision eliminates this proposal;
  • Community land trusts: The revision allows zoning accommodations for trusts that build residences in ways that reduce their cost relative to other such dwellings.
David Pendered

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow.


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  1. Dana Blankenhorn July 30, 2021 10:02 am

    Atlanta’s problem is that most of its empty land is in the form of residential backyards. That means higher density requires more parks, especially more small parks. Unless that happens, adding density just adds to the heat island effect driving climate change.

    Rather than address this problem, the city is punting it and doing it by accretion. The result will be the same. Fewer trees, less land available for parks, a bigger heat sink, and folks moving further away. We can have density if we pay the price for it. But no one wants to do that.Report

  2. pavan iyer July 30, 2021 10:59 pm

    Less density means more roads which means more heat island effect which also means more cars which means more CO2 emissions. this also creates increased demand for car infrastructure since more roads causes more people to drive which starts the whole cycle over. There is a larger macro-regional issue that we need to address here, the density being proposed can do that. the land loss is a drop in the bucket compared to a strategy of suburban expansion to accommodate growth when it comes to climate change…Also most of the empty land is not residential backyards, where are you citing that statistic? If anything, in tandem with developing these backyards, we have plenty of surface parking that can be converted to a mix of housing, commercial uses and greenspace to support a larger City ecosystem.Report


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