Dunwoody residents regularly debate the role apartments play in their city.
Some argue apartments lead to overcrowding in some schools. Others say the ratio between apartments and single-family homes is out of balance. Recently, the city was accused in a federal court lawsuit of harassing owners of low-income apartments, and discriminating against low-income residents by trying to thwart development of affordable, multi-family housing in the city. The city has denied the claims and asked the lawsuit be dimissed.
We asked Mayor Mike Davis a few questions about the city’s relationship to apartments and apartment development. Here are his answers.
Q. How many apartments now exist in Dunwoody? Do you feel there are too many?
A. Based on the data from most recent U.S. Census as well as the city’s 2010 Comprehensive Land Use Plan, there are roughly 10,000 apartment units spread out over 51 multi-family residential complexes. I don’t feel we have a glut of apartments, but I feel the city needs to appropriately manage development and code compliance to ensure that the health, safety and well-being of all residents is being safeguarded by the city.
Q. You have said in public speeches that the need to control or improve apartments was among the reasons the city of Dunwoody was formed. Do you feel the ratio of apartments to single-family homes in Dunwoody is out of balance? What is the city doing to rectify any problems with apartments?
A. I have stated that one of the reasons we became a city was to help establish greater local control. And by local control, I mean local residents, city staff and elected officials working together to best manage the growth, development and quality of life within the boundaries of the city.
Unfortunately, there is no perfect ratio or equation to define the appropriate amount of homes to apartments in a city of 46,000 residents. I believe the critical factors to consider when fostering appropriate community development guidelines and standards include the safety, health and well-being of existing and future residents, and the infrastructure capabilities (water, roads, drainage, schools/educational facilities, parks, public transportation, convenient access to jobs, leisure activities, educational facilities, shopping, etc.) of an urban/suburban area that is 13.2 square miles.
The city is working with all apartment owners to ensure proper compliance with the established codes to safeguard the health, safety and well-being of all residents.
Q. A recent federal lawsuit accuses the city of using housing code enforcement to harass owners of old apartment complexes. What is the city doing to force compliance with its housing codes? What effect have any intensified enforcement measures had?
A Addressing the life safety and property maintenance issues of the apartments, townhomes, and condominiums in our city is of critical importance, and greatly enhances the quality of life for all our citizens. On April 12, 2010, the mayor and city council implemented the Multi-Family Code Compliance Program based on the International Property Maintenance Code as well as other national and state standards, and addressed appropriate staffing levels in the Community Development Department to properly support the program. The city of Dunwoody’s Multi-Family Code Compliance Program requires both interior and exterior inspections of multi-family residential complexes.
When the program began, city staff witnessed first-hand a large number of code-required safety features that were either missing completely or not maintained properly, which was likely due to lax oversight for these apartments, townhomes, and condominiums prior to the city’s incorporation.
All apartments and condominiums in the city are subject to the inspection program, regardless of age of complex or form of ownership. The program has identified and resulted in the correction of hundreds of immediate, life-safety hazards to our residents.
For Dunwoody, the real success and effect of the code compliance program are not the numbers of violations addressed, but the potential tragedies prevented through the proactive code compliance monitoring. When a property’s maintenance issues are not addressed, residents are put in harm’s way, and the health safety and well-being of the residents suffers. In addition, property values are lessened, which depresses occupancy rates, creating a downward spiral, and negatively impacting the potential for economic growth.
Q. Regarding the Perimeter Center portion of the city, there’s a lot of talk about multi-use development and denser development, which presumably would include apartments. How do you allow Perimeter to develop as a “live-work-play” community attracting younger residents, and not allow development of more apartments?
A. We recognize the value of creating mixed-use, transit-oriented development within walking distance of public transit stations. However, we also have concerns about the impact of such development on the city’s infrastructure and schools. Prior to incorporation, DeKalb County zoning regulations permitted or “entitled” approximately 4,500 additional apartment units for various properties across the Perimeter area in Dunwoody.
Through the creation of the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, a vision for the Perimeter area was established by our community.
The vision was to create a “livable” regional center with first-class office, retail and high-end restaurants in a pedestrian- and bicycle-oriented environment that serves as a regional example of high-quality design standards. In addition, the city of Dunwoody works in partnership with the Perimeter Community Improvement Districts (PCIDs) to implement and complement the framework plan and projects identified in the Perimeter Center Livable Centers Initiative study (LCI).
Q. What do you see as the role of apartments in Dunwoody’s future?
A. I believe all forms of residential accommodations are important to the city. New housing will be considered appropriate if accompanied by a mechanism that determines if existing or proposed recreation, open space, schools and other infrastructure can support new residents. As I mentioned, previously established zoning regulations from DeKalb County permitted or “entitled” approximately 4,500 additional apartment units for various areas across Dunwoody. While the city prefers low-density single-family and multi-family owner-occupied housing, the city seeks to promote a “livable” regional center with a strong quality of life, fostered by active civic engagement across all demographic groups as outlined in the city’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan.
City planning and programming aims to make Dunwoody a “lifelong community”: that is, a place individuals can live throughout their lifetime, and which provides a full range of options for residents.