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United we stand, divided we build

by spook (writer), Atlanta, May 16, 2007

Dekalb county, like most of the other metro Atlanta counties these days, is wresting with infill issues. Countless ranch houses are torn down in leafy, tree-filled subdivisions each month, lots scraped bare of all vegetation, and replaced by homes two, three, even four times the size of the original buildings. Dump trucks filled with dirt often line up, waiting a turn to empty reddish dirt onto the bare ground in order to build lots higher. Higher means lots once covered with modest homes over crawl spaces are now capable of providing full finished basements for MacMansions.

Many homeowners in these older neighborhoods, choosing to remain in their original, one story homes, now live with sunlight blocked from yards, multiple windows looming over their once private bathrooms, and massive erosion and flooding problems directly affecting their property.

On February 14, 2006, the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners passed the Infill Overlay Ordinance, giving residents the ability to protect single family dwelling neighborhoods from certain types of infill building. Height restrictions were developed to encourage property owners to renovate and improve existing homes to preserve character of mature residential neighborhoods without unduly restricting the building of new dwellings. At least, this is what the ordinance implies. After my experience at a public hearing with the Dekalb County Planning staff, I have my doubts about the sincerity of county officials in regards to the rights of existing homeowners in some of Atlanta's oldest neighborhoods.

I showed up, with several hundred other interested parties from Dekalb county at 7:10 P.M. My heart sank as I scanned the agenda. At least seven pages of issues concerning builders, property owners, and lawyers requesting approval or denial of zoning changes were listed. Our neighborhood's request was far down on the list. After listening to several speakers, both for and against various zoning issues, it became plain to me that the planning staff interpreted the rules mostly on the side of the developers and their supporters.

By 11:00 P.M., I wondered why several community meetings, over a period of weeks each month instead of hours, were not scheduled to deal with the volume of requests and complaints. Why would our county government decide to hold hearings on such a limited schedule? It was plain to me that everyone would not have a chance to be heard equally that evening. Sure enough, when our turn came, the planning staff cut off discussion after one person spoke in favor of implementing an overlay in a specific part of our neighborhood. At least three people of the opposing side were given an opportunity to speak. A builder, not part of this particular segment of the neighborhood, feed encouragement to those opposing the overlay. Perhaps because he wants to continue to build large, out of place houses in our neighborhood. Several of the opposing parties were told by someone that they would not be able to sell their houses if an overlay ordinance was implemented in our area because no one would buy a property with any type of building restrictions on it, an interesting, if flawed, argument.

Currently, homes in our neighborhood sell for somewhere in the $300,000+ range unless they've been gutted (not torn down) and totally renovated. Then the price rises by at least $100,000 depending on the extent of the renovation. New, large homes taking the place of 'tear downs' start well over $800,000. If we become a neighborhood of mostly tear downs replaced by 4,000 to 5,000 square foot dwellings, our options become limited. We're stuck with the inability to perform major renovations or additions to our homes in order to keep the price low enough to sell to a builder interested in replacing the home or to someone who doesn't mind owning a home bracketed on each side by large, brick edifices, choking out light and privacy.

No matter what your opinion on property rights, you'll have to agree that something is being lost in Atlanta when a new home costs more than most of us will ever be able to afford and scores of beautiful, mature trees and landscapes in our oldest neighborhoods disappear daily with a few passes of a bulldozer.


About the Writer

spook is a writer for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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1 comments on United we stand, divided we build

Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By spook on May 16, 2007 at 04:48 pm
I would love to hear from someone with an opposing opinion, someone who is interested in removing any restrictions for residential builders in Atlanta who are building infill/teardown single family homes.
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