Roswell’s plan to limit apartment construction hits home for renters, buyers

Vickers, a mixed-use project located at Canton and Woodstock Streets in Roswell, was built in 2018. City Council plans to approve changes to its building code next month and add requirements that restrict how apartment communities are built. A vote approving amendments to the Unified Development Code would require new apartments and condominiums be part of a mixed-use development. (Adrianne Murchison / Adrianne.Murchison@ajc.com)

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Vickers, a mixed-use project located at Canton and Woodstock Streets in Roswell, was built in 2018. City Council plans to approve changes to its building code next month and add requirements that restrict how apartment communities are built. A vote approving amendments to the Unified Development Code would require new apartments and condominiums be part of a mixed-use development. (Adrianne Murchison / Adrianne.Murchison@ajc.com)

Roswell residents say the north Fulton city’s plan to restrict new apartment construction will exacerbate the housing affordability problem plaguing metro Atlanta.

The City Council plans to approve changes to its development code next month, adding requirements that restrict how apartment communities are built.

A vote approving amendments to the Unified Development Code would require new apartments and condominiums to be part of a mixed-use development. The changes would mean developers would no longer be able to build standalone multifamily communities in Roswell.

A 90-day moratorium has been in place since March 28 on conditional use applications for new apartments unless they’re within a mixed-use project with 75% non-residential space.

Officials say the proposed change will attract quality development to Roswell. The goal is to model development after Alpharetta where successful live, work, play projects have been built or are in development at the downtown City Center, Avalon and the North Point district. Alpharetta has been so transformed in recent years that the city is building Alpha Loop linear park to connect the three destinations. Developers building office and mixed-use space along the park trail are sharing project costs with Alpharetta.

Alpharetta has a similar city code restriction for multifamily housing to what Roswell is proposing. Its code adds that a neighborhood grocery store must be included in the project.

In an emailed statement to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Roswell Mayor Kurt Wilson said Roswell is not anti-apartments but there is limited undeveloped land in the city and officials want to be strategic in its uses.

“Most of the city is already built out,” Wilson said. “So, future growth will be achieved primarily through redevelopment and revitalization of what already exists.”

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Pictured is The Catherine Apartments on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. City officials consider the development a failure because it was originally planned as mixed-use with a grocery store, office, retail and restaurant space as well as the apartments. But only the apartments were ever built, and the rest of the 18-acre property is still empty. (Adrianne Murchison / Adrianne Murchison@ajc.com)

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Pictured is The Catherine Apartments on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. City officials consider the development a failure because it was originally planned as mixed-use with a grocery store, office, retail and restaurant space as well as the apartments. But only the apartments were ever built, and the rest of the 18-acre property is still empty. (Adrianne Murchison / Adrianne Murchison@ajc.com)

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

caption arrowCaption
Pictured is The Catherine Apartments on Alpharetta Highway in Roswell. City officials consider the development a failure because it was originally planned as mixed-use with a grocery store, office, retail and restaurant space as well as the apartments. But only the apartments were ever built, and the rest of the 18-acre property is still empty. (Adrianne Murchison / Adrianne Murchison@ajc.com)

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Roswell residents voicing opposition to changing the development code during recent city meetings said they expect a permanent amendment will increase demand for all housing types, which could squeeze out teachers, restaurant workers and others who want to rent or own a home in the city.

The Council for Quality Growth, a non-profit trade organization of more than 300 companies including developers, contractors, attorneys and others in the building industry, agrees. An April 11 letter from the organization to Wilson and Roswell city councilmembers says the new building requirements on apartments could negatively impact all types of existing housing inventory and “have long-term consequences ... in meeting current and future residents’ housing needs.”

A final vote on the proposed changes is scheduled to take place at the next regular City Council meeting on May 9. Wilson and all of the voting council members are in favor of it. (Councilman Marcelo Zapata has been away all year for medical reasons.)

“This is really about trying to have balance in our community,“ Councilman Mike Palermo said of amending the city code. “We need to do a better job of mixed-use.”

Roswell has 41 standalone apartment communities, most of which are located on the east side of Roswell, an area of town that officials believe is long overdue for redevelopment.

Palermo said that area has more multifamily units (apartments and condominiums) than single-family homes and townhomes combined.

“I don’t see this as something that will decrease affordability,” he said. “I see it adding an increase in walkability and sustainability, ultimately creating destinations for Roswell.”

The councilman said changing the Unified Development Code is not about getting rid of apartments.

“We should not get rid of multifamily. I’m just saying it should be a part of mixed-use,” Palermo added.

Housing costs rise

In March, the median sale price of a home in Roswell was $527,000, according to Realtor.com. The average rent of an apartment was $1,687, RentCafe.com reported.

Roswell’s median household income in 2020 was $105,913, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. The average household in Roswell spent 29.5% of its median household income on housing in 2019, the bureau’s American Community Survey office reported. But Kathy Vitali, of Shelter Home Mortgage in Roswell, said that percentage is not realistic today. The average is typically 35-38%, she said.

Roswell police officers and Fulton County teachers are among those earning considerably less than Roswell’s median household figure. A police officer’s starting salary could be nearly $60,000 depending on their certification and education. A new teacher’s salary could be as low as $48,000.

Someone earning $60,000 could afford a home valued at about $275,000 depending on their credit score, down payment and other factors, Vitali said.

“Most people are going beyond that number depending on their other debts,” she added. But many are still edged out by other buyers offering much more than the asking price. Vitali said that last week a client went $40,000 over the asking price to purchase a home.

Marineli Dal Cerro, a Roswell resident and real estate agent with Keller Williams, said she has clients who’ve moved from Roswell to nearby cities because there were no homes or apartments in their price range.

“You could really argue that (homes valued at) $450,000 and less are really impossible (to find) in Roswell, unless you purchase a condo that needs work,’” she said. “We talk about this in the office all the time.”

Dal Cerro also helps people find apartments or homes to rent.

“I’ve got clients waiting for a home to be built or in transition trying to find a place to live and need to stay in Roswell and the rents are too high. There are not enough options available,” she said.

Marineli was unable to find a $250,000 home for Esther Collins, who rented a home in Roswell with her late husband for more than 10 years. Collins told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she’s been renting an apartment near Avalon in Alpharetta since 2020 while trying to save enough to buy a Roswell home.

“I thought I was coming into the housing market with ducks in a row, even with a little nest egg, but I couldn’t find anything to live in,” said Collins, 43, who does accounting work for a marketing firm. She said she recently renewed her Alpharetta apartment lease for $1,600 per month.

Justin Holsomback, 32, lives in an apartment and earns a good salary working as a recruiter in the cybersecurity industry. He took Roswell’s mayor to task on a recent comment.

“There was one remark Wilson made saying that even apartment dwellers don’t want to see more apartments,” Holsomback recalled. “I could tell him from experience, that is incorrect ... They know there is limited housing inventory.”

Holsomback said he is moving to unincorporated DeKalb where he purchased a home because he couldn’t find one in his price range of $350,000 in Roswell. His monthly apartment rent was set to increase from $1,425 to $1,775, he said.

“I just love living in Roswell but because of the lack of (housing) inventory and the zoning decisions, I have to move,” he said.

The Council for Quality Growth is asking Roswell to delay the final vote on the code change and meet with members of the community to discuss housing concerns. Roswell didn’t respond to AJC inquiries about that request. Wilson did say the City Council is focused on a development plan that benefits everyone in Roswell.

“We want to make sure everyone is on the same page — that residents, as well as investors and developers — know exactly what kind of development Roswell is looking for,” Wilson said. " The issue of affordable housing is a challenge locally and nationally.”

Data specialist Jennifer Peebles contributed to this article.

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