Tell us a little about yourself and your position as Planning and Economic Development Director for the City of Decatur.
My role as Decatur’s Planning Director started in 2015. In 2019 my role expanded to Planning and Economic Development Director. I have oversight of both the planning, zoning, and permitting services division as well as the economic development division. I’ve been in local government for over 18 years and previously worked with the City of Asheville (my hometown), City of Atlanta, and the City and County of San Francisco.
I think the City of Decatur is the perfect size for great community planning and development. We have a lot of dedicated community members and we all come together to work on solutions to the issues that we face. We are able to see the big picture of transportation, housing, economic development, and equity, and how each of these different parts working together successfully make the best quality of life possible here in Decatur.
What is the City of Decatur's view on ADUs and their benefits?
Decatur is definitely pro ADU and has been for a number of years. We’re fortunate to have amended our development ordinance to allow for Accessory Dwelling Units in 2012. It’s exciting to see how residents are fitting ADUs into their lives and their future lives as they age in place. Whether it’s extra income, aging parents, kids in college who are staying close, we’ve heard from community members a desire to build an ADU for all of these reasons.
Foundation prep has begun for this 1 bd / 1 ba "RTown" ADU in Decatur. The permitting process with the City of Decatur was a positive experience.
Beyond the community benefits, what drives the City’s interest in ADUs?
Like many parts of the nation, housing is at the forefront of conversations that are happening here. We support all the reasons someone might want an ADU because at the end of the day we’re creating more housing options. Not everyone wants to live in a single-family home and take on the burden of upkeep and taxes. And not everyone wants to live in mid to large size apartment buildings. Decatur does those housing types really well, but where are the options in the middle? We need more housing diversity, which is exactly what ADUs provide.
Can you share some about Decatur’s new Missing Middle Housing Ordinance?
Conversations started with our affordable housing summit in 2018 where we brought together subject experts and over 100 community members for a day-long learning experience where roundtable groups discussed possible solutions to the affordable housing crisis we face. In 2019 the City Commission created an affordable housing task force with over 20 members from our community. The task force put forward a report of recommendations, one of which was to amend the local zoning codes to allow duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in addition to single family, in our single-family zoning districts. After more than a year of community engagement, the Missing Middle Housing Ordinance became effective June 30th, 2023. As a result, we have eliminated single family only zoning in the City of Decatur. It’s imperative to recognize housing options as an issue and then act to create opportunities for different sizes of households to support the different phases of life and aging in place.
Opticos Design: "Missing Middle Housing"
Decatur was an early adopter of ADUs. What has been the community’s response over the last 10 years?
We've had a few built over the years but it hasn’t been at the rate we hoped it would be. As we’ve talked to more property owners, it comes down to financing but also the construction type. It's such a niche, so there's not a lot of builders out there, like ATL ADU, who want to take on a specialty project like that. We’re trying to encourage our local builders and property owners to include Accessory Dwelling Units, or allow room for future ADUs, as part of their plans. A lot of times, we see plans that build out to the maximum in terms of floor area and/or lot coverage, leaving no room for an ADU. I also see the need for more marketing to grow awareness that the City of Decatur does allow for ADUs and ATL ADU’s blog certainly helps!
What other challenges have you seen to ADU development?
Decatur has significant goals related to climate action, therefore we have to balance new development with environmental factors. For example, the city adopted a new storm water master plan in 2020, where any time more than 500 square feet of land is disturbed, storm water management must be accounted for, which increases development costs and affects affordability. In 2021, Decatur’s newest tree canopy conservation ordinance was adopted. Most of the time, the tree canopy is in the rear yard so compliance with the ordinance can be trickier for a detached Accessory Dwelling Unit. You can look at these things positively or negatively - it’s a challenge but there are ways to balance both. I’m so impressed by the Decatur community wanting to do right by housing and equity goals alongside climate action goals to make Decatur a better place for the future.
A bioswale (front left), filled with landscape rocks and plants, provides stormwater management by capturing rainwater and distributing it evenly for this 2bd / 2ba, 750 sft "KWood" ADU.
What would you say to Decatur residents who are considering building an ADU?
When there is a property owner or builder who is interested in an ADU, we are thrilled that they are exploring this housing option! We know there are families who might have aging parents who will live there, or maybe a college student who is going to one of our local colleges or universities, or they might live in it themselves and rent out the larger primary home to provide extra income. Decatur’s plans review staff are prepared to review these types of permit applications fairly quickly and we’ll work with the property owner or designer to comb through any code such as the tree ordinance or storm water ordinance, for example, to find a solution if a compliance issue comes up. ADUs are a great housing type and housing option that we want to promote more of in the city of Decatur!
Studio / 1ba "East Lake" ADU in neighboring Avondale Estates