Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Infill development

Gosh, I might sound markedly conservative on this ...

But I don't think we need an ordinance regulating McMansions, namely because for all of the frustrations we have with the overbuilt housing market in Athens-Clarke County, we don't have a problem with this. And we don't have a problem primarily because developers have recognized it's more profitable to subdivide the lots (for good or for bad), and because they have recognized that folks want to live in smaller homes that are reflective of their surroundings.

This isn't to say that we don't have some issues with infill development. For instance, the impact on rising property values for low-income citizens is a real concern, but also a very necessary component. The problem isn't the rise in property values - that, in fact, is a very good thing for homeowners - but the impact on the home valuation and any resulting increase in property tax. The latter can be addressed separately.

Nothing, however, about these scenarios scream 'new ordinance' to me quite yet.


Anonymous Stop!theBS said...

My mother lives in an area of Dekalb County that has been impacted by the McMansions.

I distinctly remember when she took me to see the first one, and my reaction was definitely "Oh my God". You know how you go through Snellville, and get that first view of Stone Mountain? Sort of that effect.

I haven't seen anything nearly resembling that in ACC. In Dekalb (and from what I've read,Atlanta) you are talking about 3 story structures that cover 80 per cent of the lot, in a one story neighborhood of big yards.

I suggest that before the ACC BOC gets itself tied in knots over another piece of complex divisive legislation, it take a road trip. Most of the real McMansions are targeted at the $1 million and up club, and that's a very small club in ACC.

Also, if I were on the ACC BOC I would have to think a long time before discouraging construction that would have a positive net cash flow in terms of taxes and services.

Here's an little historical note, and why lots with older houses can be "subdivided". Many of the older neighborhoods were laid out as "subdivions", but the "lots" were only 25 or 50 feet wide. When the original purchaser wanted to purchase land and build a house, they would purchase 4, 6, or 8 contiguous "lots". So what appears as one graceful residential house lot in an older neighborhood, is actually shown on the county records as a series of much smaller platted lots.

A good example of this is the neighborhood along Southview and University drive. All of those homes are built on a series of 50 foot lots (except for the newer "infill") housing.

The significance of this is that a new purchaser can build on as many of the original lots as he choses (subject to zoning) without having to seek any rezoning or variance. Because the original lots are grandfathered in, ACC cannot zone the property so as to prevent the building of a house on it.

9:23 AM  
Anonymous Bill Overend said...

I think it's a good idea to explore this now, before it becomes an issue. I think, JMac, if you and I took a tour of some neighborhoods in Atlanta you might change your mind as well. I think that the commissioners who are calling for this discussion are trying to be proactive, to potential issues that can crop up, which I believe is a good idea, especially in zoning issues. (If only we'd considered the possibility of a special use zoing for fraternities BEFORE it actually became a pressing issue, for example)
I drove down Olde Ivey in Atlanta this past weekend, which for all my life has been a neighborhood of nice 1800-2800 sq ft ranch houses on apropriate sized lots with lots of grass and old growth trees, etc. It's a street similar to many neighborhoods in Athens, including mine. House after house is being torn down and replaced with 4,500+ sq ft three-story monstrosities, four car garages, etc.
Maybe that'll never happen here, but it would be nice to be prepared if it did.

10:58 AM  
Blogger Jmac said...

Good points Bill, and I didn't intend to give the impression that I'm content with the McMansion craze. My larger point was that this didn't appear to be an issue for our community (and I don't foresee it becoming one), but also, and I didn't stress this enough, that we probably have existing zoning laws which help deter such redevelopment.

I was actually supportive of the Atlanta ordinance setting restrictions on McMansions. Where the water gets murky for me is when we start regulating what buildings can look like and other things like that. Yes, it's frustrating when someone comes into a particular neighborhood and builds a home that differs from other designs, but I'm not prepared to push for restrictions which would affect that.

But, fair enough regarding starting the discussion. I'm always open to that, and it wasn't my intention to suggest otherwise.

1:11 PM  

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