City DopeNews

Athens Is One Step Closer to Regulating Infill Housing

How does Bruce Lonnee do it? The senior planner for Athens-Clarke County has been talking about infill development for almost a year—to members of the planning commission, to homeowners, members of community groups and anyone who has a complaint or a concern about new houses in their neighborhoods.

And yet, at the Dec. 15 Mayor and Commission work session, Lonnee still managed to sound enthusiastic and upbeat about revised zoning regulations recommended by the planning commission for adoption. These changes are designed to address concerns of neighborhood residents about “massing, scale and placement” of new houses in areas zoned for single-family houses.

When the zoning code was revised in 2000, the emphasis was on finding “nooks and crannies” in town for infill development. The push was to have more density in-town and less in the outlying areas. The nooks and crannies would have access to existing infrastructure and county services, officials reasoned, making them acceptable for new houses. Things didn’t work out exactly as planned—just drive through East Athens to see multi-story student houses served by a single driveway. MLK Drive offers easily viewed examples of these flag-shaped lots, which have since been prohibited.

Lonnee told commissioners the planning commission also supported proposals to hold training and educational sessions about appropriate infill development, and to create a review process for single-family homes similar to one in place for commercial developments. Neither of these proposals requires a change in local ordinances, so they can be implemented immediately.

ACC commissioners questioned Lonnee about retaining walls, which would be limited to a height of 4 feet under the zoning regulations. A towering retaining wall—and there are several in Five Points—could place a new house high enough to give residents a bird’s eye view of, say, a neighboring kitchen, and relegate those homeowners to watching a wall.

Commissioner Melissa Link wondered if zoning restrictions in single-family areas in Boulevard and Normaltown would push developers into the Hancock Corridor and other areas zoned for multi-family housing. She said she’s worried about such unintended consequences. For this reason, Lonnee said, officials need to revisit RM zones.

The text amendments will come up for a vote in the new year.