Roswell’s new limits on apartments could price some out of city, officials say

Roswell City Hall
Roswell City Hall

Changes to Roswell’s housing and development codes that limit construction of new apartment buildings could negatively affect lower income residents, City Council members argued before approving the revisions.

Tweaks in wording in the unified development code (UDC) set the landscape for higher-cost live, work, play destinations in East Roswell that would resemble those in Alpharetta, a goal of Councilman Mike Palermo and others.

The changes were made without public input, which contrasts with a call for feedback on Roswell’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan that categorizes the lack of affordable apartments in the city as a weakness.

Roswell City Council members debated the changes during a recent meeting with half wanting more walkable, attractive communities and the others concerned that some residents would be priced out of living in the city.

During the July 13 meeting, Mayor Lori Henry was the deciding vote that approved most of the changes that included limiting multi-family housing and not allowing new apartment developments in certain commercially zoned areas.

Other changes require mixed-used developments to have more than 50% of space dedicated to business and no multi-family units on the ground floor.

Palermo said the changes would balance housing in East Roswell with what is now on the west side and still allow for some stand-alone apartments.

But Councilwoman Marie Willsey said a dozen real estate professionals told her that the kind of development Roswell has in mind is no longer a viable investment idea.

“All said they were a deterrent to any real estate investment in redeveloping or revitalizing a city,” she said.

Willsey and Councilmen Matt Judy and Matthew Tyser voted against the changes. Palermo and Council members Marcelo Zapata and Christine Hall were in favor of them.

“The downside for certain groups in Roswell could be devastating,” Judy said.

According to RentCafe.com, the average rent for a nearly 1,100 square foot apartment in Roswell is $1,307. By comparison, the average cost in Alpharetta is $1,500. Luxury apartments near Alpharetta’s revitalized downtown city center average $2,038.

“These zoning restrictions might unintentionally keep people of color out of the middle class and eventually get them out of Roswell altogether,” Sandra Sidhom of Roswell Renters told Council members.

The group advocates for renters as well as educates the public and officials on affordable housing policy. Sidhom said there is a tendency to treat multi-family and single-family housing as incompatible, which causes minorities and lower income people to suffer.

A draft of Roswell’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan indicates a lack of affordable housing for civil servants such as teachers and public safety workers.

Henry declined an interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution but through her spokesperson said that the amendments to the UDC “don’t have anything to do with the comp plan.”

“I understand (this) is a concern for some in the community but it will depend on what some developers bring forward in the future,” Henry said.

The mayor said she will conduct a racial equity study on disparities in housing and the community with the task force on race that she committed to forming in June.