In a blow to Atlanta planning officials’ effort to boost intown density and housing affordability, the city council’s zoning committee this week shot down legislation that would have spurred more diverse residential construction and reduced car dependency.
Authored by City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, the proposed ordinance sought to make the city more welcoming to accessory dwelling units—such as basement or garage apartments or a tiny home in the backyard—and eliminate parking space minimums at most residential developments.
“These are not radical proposals,” Farokhi told Atlanta Civic Circle in an interview.
But the prospect of allowing people to tangle with the traditional look and feel of predominantly single-family communities—the suburban-style neighborhoods common outside the city’s urban core—was too much for most of Atlanta’s 25 neighborhood planning units (NPUs) and some municipal leaders.
When City Councilmember Howard Shook moved to file away Farokhi’s legislation on Monday—a move backed by Councilmembers Cleta Winslow, Carla Smith, Andrea Boone, and Marci Collier Overstreet—he effectively disarmed the starting gun of City Planning Commissioner Tim Keane’s plan to make living in Atlanta more accessible for everybody by boosting the city’s housing stock. Shook did not respond to a request for comment.
Keane has been pushing for a total overhaul of the city’s zoning code through the Atlanta City Design Housing plan, because diversifying the types of housing that can be built in historically single-family communities is one of the best ways to foster affordability, as he told Atlanta Civic Circle in an in-depth interview this fall. Replacing one house with 12 apartments, for instance, is a better, more equitable use for the land, he says.
“The conversation that started with the Atlanta City Design Housing [plan] is the one we must have as a city if we are to address affordability in a successful manner,” Keane said in a text Friday.
As Farokhi told Atlanta Civic Circle, “The legislation didn’t have any affordability requirements, but study after study has shown that adding housing has reduced pressures on prices.”
“The housing challenges we face remain,” he warned, “and the policy solutions proposed this last year will have to be revisited.”
Farokhi has not given up on his effort to advocate housing density and affordability, and he’s already looking ahead to early next year, when Atlanta will have a new mayor and six new city councilmembers.
“Mayor-elect Andre Dickens is deeply committed to affordable housing, and I think the new council has a lot of fresh perspectives and energy,” Farokhi said.
Keane also anticipates a renewed push for zoning legislation early next year and he is already laying the ground. “We will continue by spending more time with residents and neighborhoods on these issues and pursue solutions that people will support and feel good about.”
Farokhi and Keane still could face an uphill battle. “I think there is a national reticence [to increased density] among neighborhood associations and planning groups,” Farokhi said. “But we need more housing at more price points and with more variety.”