DeKalb is running out of land. Officials seek more housing options.

As land runs low for large homes to rise, DeKalb leaders are searching for new housing types.

DeKalb County Board of Commissioners are close to adopting a cottage-home development ordinance, which will allow projects with four to 12 cottages ranging between 350 square feet to 1,200 square feet to be built around shared courtyard spaces.

Local officials also aim to simplify the process for building accessory dwelling units, which are small residences erected on the same property as a larger home.

Inspired by East Lake and Serenbe

Less than 2% of DeKalb land is undeveloped, said County Commissioner Ted Terry. One option for using the scarce resource: establishing a new zoning district to conserve 50% of a property as open space and developing the rest of it into a cluster of homes, retail, gardening, farming, and other uses.

Local officials are now reviewing the proposal, borrowing inspiration from East Lake Commons and Serenbe.

“We’ve scoped out all of the land in unincorporated DeKalb where we think there could be good opportunities for conservation villages, and interestingly enough, they’re in every corner of the county,” Terry said. “It’s an opportunity for neighbors to see these last little bits of greenspace preserved.”

Those efforts are aimed at generating missing middle housing, a broad range of residential units bridging the density gap between single-family homes on large lots and high-rise apartment buildings. Real estate professionals point to a mix of housing as a necessary ingredient for affordability.

Surging population growth

DeKalb is projected to swell to more than 1 million residents by 2050, which could contribute to rising rents and home prices without sufficient inventory.

As of August, the median sales price for a home in the county was $385,000, up 54% since 2019, according to First Multiple Listing Service data. Some of the homes allowed under the cottage-home ordinance could be priced as low as $200,000, a bargain relative to the price for one of the new townhomes or “McMansions” popping up in the county, Terry said.

Several communities are leaning into missing middle housing in hope of providing attainable options for first-time homebuyers and empty nesters. Earlier this year, Decatur allowed duplexes, triplexes and similar units to be built on properties zoned for single-family homes. Gwinnett County is exploring how a mix of multifamily housing could rise on underused properties.

A housing size for everyone

In 2021, Atlanta City Council considered allowing small apartments to be built in single-family neighborhoods near MARTA stations, granting more options for accessory dwelling units and removing parking requirements for residential properties.

The proposed ordinances, criticized by residents and neighborhood groups, died in committee. Some changes could come from a rewrite of the city’s zoning ordinance in coming years.

“The whole idea is creating a range of sizes for everyone,” Terry said.


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