Equipped with input from more than 10,000 residents, businesses, and property owners, TSW Design will take the next nine months to produce the first draft of the city of Atlanta’s new zoning code, then bring it to the public for recommendations, an Atlanta planning department spokesperson told Atlanta Civic Circle.
The new zoning code will update the city’s outdated land-use rulebook, which hasn’t been overhauled in 40 years. Atlanta’s Department of City Planning concluded its community outreach effort on April 30, after spending about 18 months soliciting suggestions online and at public meetings.
Survey answers published online indicate local urbanists have had an outsized impact on the community-input process; most of the votes on multiple-choice questions align with suggestions shared by pro-density advocacy group Abundant Housing Atlanta for zoning queries about things like single-family residential districts, parking requirements, or how much space buildings can consume on a lot.
Some of the major zoning changes that residents want to see are: reduced parking space requirements; more allowances for denser housing types—such as accessory dwelling units, triplexes, and quadplexes—and abolishing regulations that make dense development difficult.
Survey respondents also expressed support for more uniform frontage standards in newer neighborhoods that lack them; allowing pre-1945 storefronts in residential areas to be used as commercial spaces; permitting taller accessory buildings; and incentivizing better public spaces in neighborhoods.
The revamped zoning code won’t take a blanket approach to regulating land use, TSW Design principal Caleb Racicot said during multiple community meetings. Instead, the code is likely to use zone strings—a more nuanced 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).
“If Reynoldstown decides, ‘We want to allow duplexes, or even quadplexes, but we want a slightly different form,’—that package already exists somewhere, and so you could just change that one piece in the zone string and accomplish that,” he said during an April 20 meeting.
City to overhaul related development roadmap
In related news, the city planning department will also start the process to update its Comprehensive Development Plan—a policy guide that lays out how the city can promulgate land-use laws—to allow more flexibility as the zoning code is rewritten, said planning department spokesperson Marci McKenna in an email.
The Comprehensive Development Plan rewrite will trigger another community engagement process, McKenna said.
Ordinarily, a city’s overall development plan is already in place to provide big-picture guidance before it embarks on a comprehensive zoning code update, Darin Givens, an urbanist with the nonprofit ThreadATL, told Atlanta Civic Circle. “It’s weird for the zoning rewrite and the Comprehensive Development Plan to be developed side-by-side like this,” he said in an email.
“Comprehensive plans, in part, outline the basic concepts that guide the rewrite of zoning ordinance,” Givens explained. “And it’s at that 20,000-foot-view level of a comprehensive plan where you want to engage with the public and get their input using clear, non-jargon language.”
That’s not what’s happened for the city’s Zoning 2.0 process, Givens added: “Instead, Atlanta started off with the public input process on the zoning rewrite, which is a really detailed, complex, jargon-heavy thing that only a limited number of experts will be able to follow along with. It’s all backward.”
McKenna, the planning department spokesperson, did not respond to Atlanta Civic Circle’s questions about why the comprehensive development plan is being updated at the same time that TSW Design drafts legislation to overhaul the zoning code.
Abundant Housing Atlanta co-founder Alison Grady is concerned that Atlanta’s new zoning code won’t break away from the “suburban-style” status quo that restricts over 60% of the city’s residential land to single-family development.
During the public input meetings, she said, city planning leaders didn’t seem receptive to prioritizing key zoning code changes to boost housing affordability: “changes that will allow for smaller, more affordable homes, like quadplexes, accessory dwelling units, and small apartments and condominium complexes.”
Increasing residential density is important, she explained, because it expands housing stock, which will make housing more affordable.