Atlantans say the city’s long-overdue zoning code overhaul must prioritize housing issues, according to community feedback solicited by the city’s planning department in a recent survey.

The Atlanta City Planning Department fielded over 2,200 comments overall, said Caleb Racicot of architecture firm TSW Design at an ATL Zoning 2.0 community engagement meeting on Tuesday evening. TSW Design is helping the planning department navigate its zoning code rewrite. 

While some survey participants raised concerns about parking space requirements and tree conservation, “there were a lot of folks very concerned about the housing crisis the city faces,” Racicot told the few hundred residents attending the ATL Zoning 2.0 workshop at Castleberry Hill’s Russell Innovation Center for Entrepreneurs and virtually.

The revelation underscores that many residents want Atlanta’s new land-use rulebook–the first overhaul in 40 years–to promote housing affordability.

Housing experts have told Al ilmu that to do that, the city’s zoning code must allow more residential development with multiple units, such as accessory dwellings and small apartment complexes, in areas historically designated as single-family residential districts.

But it’s still unclear how—or if—the planning department will incorporate housing advocates’ calls for density in the final zoning rewrite ordinance, which could be drafted and ready to enact in early 2025, especially since the department’s new chief, Jahnee Prince, has vowed to protect single-family residential districts.

Racicot, like Prince, acknowledged to the hundreds of Atlantans attending Tuesday’s meeting in person and virtually that the survey, which closed in December, was “very challenging”—but he said that’s because, “ultimately, the zoning code today is very technical.” Local urbanists have complained that the planning department’s survey was confusing for people who aren’t land-use professionals. 

Racicot said many survey respondents professed support for “string zoning”—one of the complicated terms asked about in the survey, which simply means separately regulating a property’s four components—the 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.

Currently, the city’s outdated zoning code uses the one-size-fits-all approach, except in Atlanta’s special districts, such as the Beltline Overlay. 

Regarding zone strings, Eric Kronberg of Kronberg Urbanists + Architects said that even he, an industry professional, is “still trying to figure it out for myself.”

“We’re really worried about staffing in terms of trying to implement this [new zoning code],” he added in an interview. Kronberg and other designers and developers raised concerns last week about the state of the planning department after it lost three seasoned zoning staffers. (The city planning department’s Office of Zoning and Development has a staff of dozens, but their resignations jeopardize the office’s efficiency, critics said.)

One question that came up at the ATL Zoning 2.0 workshop was how much weight residents’ suggestions carry—and which ones will make it into the final product. Numerous residents voiced concerns that homeowners, not renters—who account for most of Atlanta’s residents—made up the bulk of the workshop attendees and would dominate discussions informing the monumental undertaking.

Racicot noted that many of the survey responses from the public were copied and pasted from recommended answers supplied by progressive advocacy group Abundant Housing Atlanta, which has said it crafted the responses because the questions were hard to understand. 

Gov. Brian Kemp last week announced he’d back legislation to relax local zoning restrictions that have long made affordable housing development difficult, although he did not provide any specifics.

How to get involved

The next in-person opportunity for Atlantans to weigh in and ask questions about the zoning code overhaul is scheduled for Feb. 28 at 6 p.m., at the Buckhead Library. Register to attend in person here or online here.

Atlantans can also share their views on parking requirements, land use and site standards by participating in a new ATL Zoning 2.0 survey here.

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