Zoning changes return to Atlanta City Council as majority of neighborhoods vote in opposition

Policies aimed at spurring more housing in Atlanta are heading back to City Council. That’s after two months of public input in which neighborhoods around Atlanta largely rejected the changes.

The City Council proposed several changes to the city’s zoning earlier this year.

One would eliminate minimum parking space requirements for developers in residential areas.

Another would give owners more options for building accessory dwelling units, which are smaller, second homes on single-family lots (this would only apply to neighborhoods already zoned for ADUs.) The units could be taller, attached to the main property or for sale.

A third policy would change single-family zoning within a half-mile of MARTA stations to allow for small apartment buildings of up to four units. Developers could build up to 12 units if two are affordable.

Atlanta’s Neighborhood Planning Units voted on the zoning proposals — related to parking and ADUs — throughout October. Out of 25 NPUs, 18 chose to reject the policies. One deferred its vote.

“Those 18 NPUs represent 205 of Atlanta’s 242 neighborhoods,” said Gloria Cheatham, a resident of Tuxedo Park in Buckhead who’s become part of a coalition challenging the changes.

The opposition includes NPU leaders throughout the city from the Northside to parts of Southwest Atlanta. Because of that, Cheatham, who is also president of the Tuxedo Park Civic Association, said their issues with the legislation vary.

She is most concerned that increased building would lead to more destruction of trees. Other residents felt the elimination of parking requirements would make it more difficult to find spaces on their street. Cheatham said she’s heard worry from her counterparts in Southwest Atlanta that more development would price out even more longtime residents.

Citywide zoning changes can’t address these neighborhoods’ individual needs, she said.

“And that’s largely where the neighborhoods’ concerns are — the sledgehammer, across-the-board nature of the current proposals,” she said.

Ernest Brown of a group called Neighbors for More Neighbors Metro Atlanta, which promotes more housing options, attended neighborhood meetings around Atlanta to explain the legislation and emphasized that it still received meaningful support in the NPU system. Six voted in favor. And within NPUs where the majority voted against, he said there were still many who approved of the ideas.

The NPU process also tends to exclude a big segment of Atlanta residents, said City Council member Amir Farokhi, who introduced the zoning proposals. Renters, people who work multiple jobs and immigrants rarely make it to the three evening meetings necessary to qualify for an NPU vote.

“So it’s incumbent on council members to take into account that we represent a much broader set of residents than NPU opinions may reflect as valuable as that feedback is,” Farokhi said.

NPUs ultimately have an advisory role in city government. They don’t have the authority to direct City Council members’ actions on legislation.

Even so, Farokhi said the city plans changes based on the initial public input about the zoning proposals.

For example, with the legislation concerning housing near MARTA, it’s reducing the small apartment buildings allowed to the size of a single-family home, so that it better matches the neighborhood character and has a smaller impact on trees.

He also expects the City Council to delay voting on the small apartment buildings proposal until next year. For now, he said council members will only take on the policies around residential parking and ADUs.

A zoning review board made up of appointees from the mayor and City Council passed the legislation, including those two proposals, last week. A City Council committee will likely take up the two policies at the end of the month.

The goal of the different zoning proposals, as pitched by the city, is to incentivize more housing and at more price points than may be possible under current rules. Brown said he thinks this is a response to population growth and change the city is already experiencing.

“I think the zoning reforms are a way to try to steer that change in a direction that has broader benefits for a bigger, more vibrant, more inclusive city,” he said.

Editor’s Note: A previous version of this article incorrectly identified the number of NPUs which voted for the zoning proposals. It also incorrectly included the rezoning of parcels near MARTA stations as among the policies that went up for a vote in October’s NPU meetings. NPUs are set to take up that issue next year.