What Local Historic District DOES NOT do: · Does not regulate paint colors · Does not require repairs or renovations to be made · Does not increase taxes beyond normal increases for the City or County · Does not prevent additions · Does not prevent non-contributing homes from being demolished · Does not require use of historic materials or historic building methods · Does not require that you open you home to the public · Does not restrict routine maintenance of properties
What Local Historic District DOES do: · Recognizes that Oakhurst has a distinctive historic character important to the overall character of the City of Decatur · Encourages creative and compatible development with historic areas · Requires that a Certificate of Appropriateness be obtained for exterior changes to contributing properties, demolition of buildings, and new construction. · Applies only to major renovations to the exterior of your home. Interior renovations are not restricted.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Is Decatur in danger of losing its middle class?

There was an article in the July 2007 Atlanta Magazine (http//www.atlantamagazine.com/article.php?id=332)
Here is an excerpt: "While the City of Atlanta has gained new residents at a rate we haven't seen since the seventies, it seems that middle-class homebuyers are leaving the region as builders raze older homes and replace them with zillion-dollar condo developments or gigantic infill houses."

It reminded me a bit about discussions in Oakhurst not too long ago. In early 2005 there was a lot of discussion in Oakhurst about in-fill. There were many concerns because as land values were rising developers had to build bigger and bigger homes to make the profits they desired. There were many problems associated with the bigger (and in our case taller) homes; (1) they dwarfed the surrounding houses taking away from the historic and quaint character of the neighborhood (2) the median price for new homes at that time was $550,000 or nearly twice the price of a renovated home (3) by maxing out the impervious and floor ratio percentages for a lot we were maxing out our infrastructure capabilities and creating an environmental problem.

It is safe to say that Decatur residents want flexibility in the ordinances to allow continued value gains in existing homes and to encourage development. At the same time we are all concerned about the problem described in the Atlanta Magazine article, that we are rapidly losing housing that is affordable for not only our poor but our middle class. In just two years the average home price has increased by approximately $150,000.

The proposed local historic district has sought to meet the three issues mentioned above. By adding an additional overlay over the existing zoning laws - and possibly over the more aggressive proposed zoning laws - we hope this can be accomplished. The zoning laws allow new homes to be built and existing homes to be renovated to an average of 2,200 square feet. This is based on the average lot size and floor area ratios under the current in-fill zoning. The local historic district overlay attempts to keep the massing of a home of this size on our small lots that does not loom large over surrounding homes. This will help to retain the historic and quaint character, while allowing expansion and development. Such an overlay encourages a wide range of housing sizes which means there will be homes priced from $200,000 - $700,000 throughout the district. This means that we can continue to provide housing for middle class residents that want to live in Decatur. This also means that more renovation will be encouraged versus new construction. This eliminates the amount of debris headed for the landfill. In most cases, it also creates less impervious surface which has significant environment impact and provides relief for our infrastructure. In sum it addresses all three concerns.

The necessary changes to current in-fill zoning laws to have the same impact as the local historic district overlay in addressing these three concerns would be dramatic and possibly harmful to those living throughout Decatur. The flexibility under the local historic district overlay allows communities to protect their unique character without impacting another community with different concerns.

It is true that the local historic district overlay adds another layer of government oversight. But the alternatives are either to add greater restrictions to the current in-fill zoning laws that may hurt continued development or to leave zoning alone and continue to destroy the unique character of our neighborhood and continue to drive away the socio-economic and cultural diversity of our neighborhood. I hope you will support the additional government oversight as a way of addressing all of the concerns regarding in-fill for our communitywhile still supporting growth and development.