Atlantans have until April 30 to weigh in on the city’s first zoning code overhaul in 40 years before planning department officials begin drafting the updated rulebook that will determine how the intown landscape is developed as the city continues to grow.

The Atlanta City Planning office held its final community outreach workshop on April 20 to discuss “conservation areas”—neighborhoods whose tree canopy and historic cultural fabric should be “protected from radical change” in the zoning code rewrite, dubbed ATL Zoning 2.0. Most are streets lined with single-family homes with local commercial districts, according to the city planning department. 

After the planning department crunches the survey responses, which it’s been soliciting since late 2021, it will draft legislation for the Atlanta City Council to update the city’s land-use rulebook, which was adopted in the 1980s. That’s expected to happen by mid-2024, then the city will spend the latter half of 2024 and early 2025 putting the new policies into practice. 

“We are at the point in the process now where we really try to confirm direction,” said Caleb Racicot at the April 20 community meeting, which was accessible via Zoom and streamed live on YouTube. Racicot is an urban planner with TSW Design, the architecture firm tapped to lead the community engagement portion of the city’s rewrite effort.

As Atlanta housing prices and rents grow increasingly expensive, housing experts have advocated for changes to the zoning code that foster affordability by allowing more dense residential development. 

“We expect the bulk of new density to occur” in fast-evolving, urban communities like downtown, Midtown, and Buckhead, which are “growth areas,” Racicot said during the meeting about zoning for conservation areas.

Most neighborhoods designated as conservation areas are in more suburban areas known for their tree canopy, he added. 

However, the planning department is considering relaxing zoning restrictions in some single-family residential neighborhoods to incorporate accessory dwelling units (ADUs)—like backyard tiny homes or units built into the side of standalone homes.

In places where ADUs are already allowed, Racicot said, the planning department is taking heed of community input and considering permitting greater density, such as ADUs that are two-story, detached buildings. Currently, ADUs must generally be under 750 square feet—typically one-bedroom units—so broadening that allowance would let developers build two-bedroom ADUs. 

“We are looking at doing away with many of the existing zoning districts and moving toward a strategy of what we call zone strings,” Racicot added, which would mean expanded square footage for properties would be decided more on a case-by-case basis, instead of for an entire area. Zone strings are an urban planning model that separately regulates a property’s form (architectural style), frontage (how it engages with the street), site (its location), and designated use (residential, commercial, or industrial), instead of combining them under a single “one-size-fits-all” zoning code.

With the exception of Atlanta’s special zoning districts, like the Beltline Overlay, the city uses a one-size-fits-all system for each zoning region. That means communities designated strictly for single-family residences, for instance, don’t have any flexibility when it comes to new construction. 

Racicot said during a previous community workshop in January that housing affordability tops residents’ concerns for the zoning code update, based on public input. 

Conversations about zoning can be too “technical” for the average Atlantan, Racicot and Planning Department Commissioner Jahnee Prince have acknowledged, which is something urbanist advocacy groups have complained about.

Here are recaps of the “Idea Labs” the city started convening in 2021 and the four community workshops that started last November to gain insight into the intricacies of the sprawling rewrite effort.

Here is Atlanta Civic Circle’s reporting on this complex and critical undertaking that will guide how Atlanta grows.

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