A new zoning ordinance is now in effect in Brookhaven that includes workforce housing mandates and incentives as well as restrictions on short-term rentals. A moratorium on Buford Highway development is also now ended.
The City Council voted Nov. 27 to approve its zoning code rewrite that’s been in the works for more than a year. The new zoning code replaces the DeKalb County zoning code the city approved when it incorporated in 2012 and went into effect immediately after the vote.
In May, the council approved a moratorium on Buford Highway development until after the zoning rewrite was completed. A new Buford Highway Overlay District is included in the new zoning ordinance. The overlay includes much of the commercial and residential properties along the corridor as well as the chunk of the city below I-85 where Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Executive Park, owned by Emory University, are located.
Brookhaven is one of many cities in metro Atlanta and across the country trying to address the lack of affordable housing. In the city’s new zoning code, the language used is “workforce housing,” which traditionally means homes for people such as police officers and teachers.
The city approved workforce housing through inclusionary zoning as part of the new code by requiring developers include a certain number of workforce housing units as part of new multiunit residential developments.
Councilmember Bates Mattison argued against inclusionary zoning. He suggested creating a housing authority or looking at tax abatements for developers as ways to encourage more affordable housing in the city, saying the city’s zoning code was not the proper place to address affordable housing issues.
“I do not believe the plan we have is a realistic solution for the city of Brookhaven,” he said during a council work session before the vote during the regular meeting.
Councilmember Linley Jones said she agreed with Mattison that the city has not yet reached the final conclusion on how best to address the affordable housing crisis being felt across the country. But the city has delved into the issue extensively, she said, including the appointment of an Affordable Housing Task Force that studied the issue over several months last year.
“I believe what we have is an answer. A darned good answer,” she said, adding it was “better than nothing at all.”
Councilmember John Park recalled how the Affordable Housing Task Force asked the city to consider affordable housing as part of the city’s DNA.
“It needs to be part of everything we do as a city,” he said. “This is one step.”
What the new zoning code states on workforce housing:
When the city approves anywhere in the city a special land use permit (SLUP) or rezoning of a property for a multiunit residential housing project, then 10 percent of the residential units must be defined as workforce housing, according to the new zoning code. This is called the mandatory minimum for workforce housing.
Residential housing projects include new construction, rehabilitation of a current apartment building or converting apartments to condominiums. Such projects can be developed in one or several phases.
In the new Buford Highway Overlay District, a developer is granted one bonus story of building height for each 10 percent of workforce housing over the 10 percent mandatory minimum. For example, if the developer agrees to set aside 20 percent of units for workforce housing, the developer can build one additional story.
Building heights withing the Buford Highway Overlay vary according to zoning classification.
In the Peachtree Overlay District, which includes Peachtree Road and Dresden Drive, developers are granted one additional story of building height for every 20 percent of units set aside for workforce housing.
Buildings along Peachtree Road have a height limit of 6 stories as part of the recently approved Peachtree Overlay District. Along Dresden Drive, there is a 4-story maximum, and where the Brookhaven-Oglethorpe MARTA station is located, the maximum height is 12 stories. All can be increased if granted a SLUP by the city.
The reason for the different percentages in the Buford Highway Overlay and the Peachtree Overlay is because the city wants more affordable housing components on Buford Highway where more redevelopment is expected, said Deputy Development Director Linda Abaray.
Developers who are granted height bonuses through workforce housing units are required the units be classified as workforce housing for 20 years through a deed restriction or other binding agreement approved by the city attorney.
The city is defining workforce housing as rental or for-sale units that are affordable to households earning no more than 80 percent of the median household income for metro Atlanta as determined by the federal and Housing Urban Development income limit table.
According to the HUD table for 2018, the metro Atlanta median household income, known as AMI, is $74,781. Eighty percent of the AMI for a four-person household is $59,850; for a one-person household it is $41,900.
The general rule currently accepted by many housing experts is that no more than 30 percent of a household’s income should be spent on housing. Thirty percent of $59,850 is just under $18,000 a year on housing, or $1,500 a month in rent; for a one-person household, monthly rent is $1,047.50.
Members of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, advocates for those living in apartments on Buford Highway, as well as other housing affordability advocates, argue the incomes of those currently living on Buford Highway are much less than the metro Atlanta’s median income.
Deanna Parker, executive director of of Los Vecinos de Buford Highway, thanked the mayor and City Council for taking steps to ensure equitable housing development in the city during the public hearing before the vote. She shared how she lived with her family in a Brookhaven apartment complex on Buford Highway for 15 years. Then three years ago a developer purchased the complex and she and her family were given a month to move out.
She urged the council to find ways to preserve the affordable housing that already exists along Buford Highway and asked them to also find ways to preserve housing for the single mother making less than $25,000 a year who are a “significant population in the city.”
Voting on short-term restrictions in the zoning code was a bit tricky. Councilmember Joe Gebbia’s son is co-founder of Airbnb, the largest short-term rental company, so he recused himself from discussion and vote on just this part of the zoning code. He voted with the rest of the council on the rest of the zoning code.
The council approved to allow short-term rentals in multiunit housing developments only through a SLUP process and banned short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.
“The passage of this … will ensure that our peaceful residential neighborhoods will not be turned into commercial rental communities,” Councilmember Linley Jones said.
Mattison opposed prohibiting residential homeowners from being able to rent out their homes as they wished without changing the “fabric of the neighborhood.” He said noise complaints and other issues could be handled through law and code enforcement.
Mayor John Ernst, who voted on this portion of the zoning code with Gebbia absent, said the city would continue to have conversations about how to regulate short-term rentals.
“I don’t know what enforcement mechanisms we have if it gets out of hand,” he said.
The separate votes on the zoning code were both 3 to 1 with Mattison casting the lone “no” vote twice.
There are no current plans to change enforcement of the new short-term rental restrictions. The city has responded to complaints and if ordinance violations are found, the city is able to cite the property owners and take them to court to face fines up to $1,000 for each violation.