Zoning updates don’t often generate headlines. But recent changes to city of Atlanta’s residential zoning regulations have received a flurry of press attention. Let’s unpack what’s going on:

The Situation: A Swiftly Growing Population

Have you counted the construction cranes dotting the skyline? Work crews are having a tough time building enough housing to handle the city’s booming population. The city added about 10,000 residents last year, the biggest jump since the recession ended.

And it’s not a one-time challenge. The city of Atlanta is expected to grow significantly in the decades to come. Here’s how Public Square, an influential trade journal, framed the issue in a recent article:

This magnitude in growth has not been seen in Atlanta in the last 50 years, says city zoning commissioner Tim Keane. “Between July 2016 and July 2017, the city of Atlanta permitted more than $4 billion in construction: more than any other 12 months in the city’s history.”

The Solution: Creative Zoning Changes to Allow for Greater Density

One response to this growth is to add more density. The zoning changes allow for options that mesh with the city’s existing historic character. Here are a couple of examples:

More “missing middle” housing

As we’ve written here, “middle” housing is any housing type that falls between an apartment and a single-family house, such as a duplex (as pictured in our photo of the twin doorways above), a row-house, a courtyard apartment, etc.

More housing options enable a greater diversity of people at different income levels to live there. The problem: According to a document from the city, Atlanta lost more than 9,000 of these once-plentiful “middle” residential units between 2005 and 2014—and existing zoning codes did not support the creation of new ones. The revised code creates a new type of zoning district that does.

Check out this piece by Ryan Gravel on the advantages of “middle” housing.

Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs)

You may see more granny-flats and mother-in-law apartments popping up in backyards across Atlanta in the coming years, as they’re now legal in about half the city, thanks to the new zoning tweaks. Like “middle” housing, these were once legal citywide, according to a city website, which adds that ADUs “can provide extra income for the homeowner, new housing options, and more affordable rents than are found in large apartments buildings.”

ADUs can also help people to stay in their communities by living near family while maintaining their independence as they age—no small matter in a metro where one out of five residents will be over sixty in 11 years.

Further Reading

Atlanta zoning update addresses parking, ADUs, missing middle — Public Square

Could an Accessory Dwelling Unit Help Your Aging Parent? — Next Avenue

Atlanta zoning updates could pave way for more ‘missing middle’ housing — Curbed Atlanta

Aging in place—with someone else — Curbed

What’s Next ATL, produced by the Atlanta Regional Commission, is a community resource that explores how metro Atlanta is growing and changing, and how the region is addressing its most pressing challenges.