A statewide zoning bill that would have further encumbered local efforts to increase residential density failed to cross the finish line when the Georgia General Assembly wrapped up the legislative session on Monday.
House Bill 1406, which would have mandated additional hearings and public input before municipalities could rezone single-family properties, was approved by the state House March 9, but its Republican backers couldn’t bring it to a Senate vote by the end of Sine Die on April 4, the last day of the 2021-2022 session.
State Rep. Chuck Martin, R-Alpharetta, told Atlanta Civic Circle last month that the bill intended to increase transparency and accountability for local governments seeking to rezone residential property that traditionally allow only single-family homes. Martin did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s inquiry regarding whether he’d reintroduce the bill next year.
But opponents called it a solution in search of a problem that would stunt efforts to increase housing density and diversity and, thus, affordability.
Expanding zoning for residential areas to allow taller or denser development, such as apartments and tiny homes, already faces an uphill battle. When Atlanta City Councilmember Amir Farokhi tried last year to pass a city ordinance to upzone residential properties near MARTA stations, pushback from community groups hobbled the proposal. It was effectively killed by the council’s zoning committee in December.
Farokhi, who declined to comment for this story, told Atlanta Civic Circle late last year that his proposal was “not radical” and could make a comeback in 2022. But the recent departure of city planning chief Tim Keane, who helped the councilman develop the proposed ordinance as part of a wide-ranging zoning code update, adds uncertainty to the mission.
If HB 1406 had passed, any local zoning overhaul would be even more arduous, according to Eric Kronberg, principal at Kronberg Urbanists + Architects and a member of advocacy group Neighbors for More Neighbors Metro Atlanta, which had been lobbying against the bill.
“It’s hard enough to get municipalities to do the right thing,” in terms of expanding residential density and housing diversity, Kronberg said in a recent interview.
Though the future of zoning reform in Atlanta appears uncertain, Mayor Andre Dickens announced during his first State of the City address April 4 that the city will soon launch an “affordable housing strike force” to coordinate his administration’s aim to build and preserve 20,000 affordable homes over the next eight years.
Though details about the strike force are scant, Dickens billed it as “a one-stop shop to oversee all our affordable housing needs.”
That followed the mayor’s announcement in March that he’d tap a new chief housing officer — a cabinet-level post created by former Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms — before the end of the year, which could clarify his administration’s plans around zoning reform to facilitate increased housing affordability.