DeKalb County school children gathered at the Gardens Apartments on Buford Highway for the first day of school in 2010. John Spink/jspink@ajc.com
Photo: John Spink
Photo: John Spink

Brookhaven zoning overhaul includes affordable housing incentives

The Brookhaven City Council is expected to sign off next week on an overhaul of the town’s zoning laws, with at least part of the changes aimed at increasing the amount of affordable housing.

The most recent draft of the zoning ordinance creates incentives for developers to set aside a certain amount of “workforce housing” along Buford Highway, Peachtree Road and other thoroughfares.

And Brookhaven’s Planning Commission is pushing for even more: It has suggested that the incentives be offered citywide.

“The city and our leadership have made it clear that we want to do what we can to protect affordable housing,” said Linda Abaray, the deputy director of community development. “It’s a nationwide problem, and we’re just trying to take a crack at it.”

The City Council is expected to discuss the recommendation from the Planning Commission during a meeting Tuesday night when a final vote on the zoning rewrite is expected.

As it is now, the new zoning code requires workforce housing to be included as part of certain types of developments and provides incentives for developers to make some units affordable even when it’s not required. Workforce housing is defined as units affordable to households earning no more than 80 percent of the median income for the Atlanta metro area, based on data from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

That means the new units should be affordable to a family with an annual income of no more than $59,825.

Rebekah Morris, an affordable housing advocate who created the Los Vecinos de Buford Highway organization, said this is a start, but she hopes the city will do more. She suggests additional incentives for owners of aging apartment complexes that encourage them to renovate and update units instead of selling them to developers that tear them down and create newer, more expensive properties.

She also worries that the city’s definition of workplace housing may still price many people out of the new units that are built, especially families that currently live along Buford Highway.

“Our perspective is that we think affordable housing is valuable for the city,” Morris said. “And we want cities to be more creative in the ways they go after preserving their own affordable housing stock and creating new affordable housing when that becomes necessary.”

When Brookhaven was established in 2012, its zoning laws were adopted from DeKalb County. There have been tweaks over the years, but the rewrite is the culmination of a two-year process that allowed the city to incorporate its own comprehensive plan into land-use laws and requirements. “We definitely kept the portions of the DeKalb County ordinance that we think works,” Abaray said.

A consultant was hired out of Chicago, and there have been public hearings and workshops. Various drafts were posted online, and members of the public were encouraged to leave comments.

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