By John Schaffner

After some five years of haggling amongst themselves and negotiating with neighborhoods and developers, the Atlanta City Council voted unanimously Aug. 20 to adopt new zoning regulations that are designed to end the era of McMansions” being built on lots of previously demolished smaller homes.

The intent of the legislation is to create a better fit in the city’s neighborhoods of older, smaller homes with newer homes by restricting developers from building homes that are drastically bigger than others nearby or which tower over adjacent roofs because the new house was built on a mound of dirt to get around a zoning code and provide for a future finished basement.

Steve Cover, the city’s commissioner of planning, expects that new home construction in neighborhoods throughout the city is going to be more compatible and fit better into the scale and character of the neighborhoods. Cover doesn’t believe the changes restrict people from getting the size home they desire.

What the ordinance does is allow bigger homes to be built on bigger lots and smaller homes on smaller lots, except for two city neighborhoods (Home Park and the Old Fourth Ward) where lots are unusually small and bigger homes would be allowed.

The ordinance also would require the square footage of basements and attics that can be converted to living areas be counted toward a the overall square footage of the house. And the ordinance also would prevent a developer from bringing in dirt to create a hill on which to build the house so that a finished basement could be added later.

Mayor Shirley Franklin is expected to sign the legislation.

The Council action amended the 1982 Zoning Ordinance to provide new limits on infill housing, an issue that has plagued city neighborhoods as Atlanta experiences an influx in new residents and property values soar.

The compromise, approved by a vote of 14 to 0 includes only those recommendations that were agreed upon by the Infill Development Panel of Professionals (consisting of architects, homebuilders, realtors, planners and preservationists), the Mayor’s Zoning Ordinance Rewrite Committee, and the City’s Department of Planning and Development.

The legislation addresses:

Topographical issues by establishing the current grade of the land and placing restrictions on retaining walls;

The inclusion of above-grade basements and attics with potential livable space counting toward the size of the home;

And the insertion of Floor Area Ratios in the intermediate zoning categories where they had been inadvertently omitted from the Zoning Code.

“The legislation clarifies and closes many loopholes in the 1982 zoning ordinance,” said Post 2 At-Large Councilwoman Mary Norwood.

“The desirability of city living in Atlanta has led to the remodeling and redevelopment of many existing residential structures as well as the purchase of structures for demolition in order to re-use the lot for a new building,” Norwood said. “This new legislation can help protect the quality of life for all city citizens. This legislation will allow our residents to continue to build and renovate to today’s lifestyle preferences, and it provides some degree of oversight for appropriate and orderly development.” Councilman Jim Maddox commended Norwood for her work to pull together the development community, planners and residents to come up with a method to regulate the new houses without thwarting the renewal of the city.