Atlanta Department of City Planning commissioner Tim Keane will leave office later this month, building uncertainty around his mission of boosting Atlanta’s development density to spur housing affordability. He’ll become the planning commissioner for a city that’s not yet been announced, as first reported by Axios Atlanta.

Keane, whom the City of Atlanta recruited from Charleston during former Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration in 2015, had been working to overhaul Atlanta’s zoning code and expand the diversity and density of housing types, especially in communities that have historically only allowed single-family homes. He also championed reforms that increased efficiency at the city’s once-over-encumbered permitting office. 

Keane’s efforts to foster more dense development through zoning — by welcoming more accessory dwelling units (ADUs) and small- to medium-sized apartment complexes and reducing reliance on cars — materialized in the Atlanta City Design plan, a sprawling document that outlines the city’s aims for rewriting the zoning code.

Those efforts have faced opposition from neighborhood groups, but they’ve been embraced by local urbanists.

It remains to be seen how Keane’s Feb. 18 departure will affect those goals — and the future of housing affordability in Atlanta. Whomever the city taps to replace him could determine the direction of development for years to come.

“It’s up to Atlanta what happens next,” Keane said in an email to Atlanta Civic Circle.

A spokesperson for Mayor Andre Dickens’ office said in a statement that the new mayor “appreciates [Keane’s] service to our city.”

“Atlanta has benefited from Commissioner Keane’s leadership and vision — exemplified through the development of Atlanta City Design, operational improvements to permitting and inspections, and bold policy ideas to facilitate equitable and ambitious growth.”

The city planning department’s deputy commissioner, Janide Sidifall, a former planning expert for MARTA, will serve as interim chief after Keane’s departure, potentially signaling an increased focus on transportation issues. The mayor’s office has not yet provided a timeline or process for hiring a new planning chief. 

City Councilmember Amir Farokhi, who worked with Keane to author a series of density-focused, residential zoning proposals that failed in November, told Atlanta Civic Circle: “I look forward to working with the next city planning commissioner to tackle the housing and mobility challenges that our growth has presented.”

Farokhi said he hopes Atlanta’s next planning commissioner “recognizes that we’ll need a diversity of housing types to meet demand and increase affordable options.”

“Commissioner Keane has been a remarkable leader,” Farokhi added. “We will deeply miss his vision and approach. But our challenges remain to be solved together: We need more housing and safer streets, no matter how you are moving around the city.”

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