Now, The Council rejects the McMansion ban

By a vote of 11-3!

Atlanta Councilwoman Mary Norwood, the bill’s sponsor, said she was not surprised at the loss, but happy that the issue of regulating intown demolitions has gained attention and support from many of her colleagues on the council.

Norwood said she hopes to create a high level task force to draft new rules on intown housing construction, with members drawn from the housing industry and the administration of Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin.

The vote means developers again can secure demolition permits anywhere in the city, because Mayor Shirley Franklin’s temporary ban has expired.

Even though I’m sure I’m opening myself up to some abuse, I’m not going to hide my delight with this. An all out ban (for, you know, any amount of time) doesn’t make sense. If you want to change the rules, change the rules. But don’t make people play under rules that haven’t been invented yet.

As a side note, I’ve been looking all day at the AJC.com article on this and it is interesting to see the actual written, posted story evolve. Most of the paragraphs that are included in the final article were there earlier when they were just saying that the vote was going to take place.

6 Comments so far

  1. Jonathan Peterson (unregistered) on February 8th, 2006 @ 10:00 pm

    I understand your hesitancy about outright bans, however, developers hold all the cards when it comes to zoning and housing regulations.

    If the house next to yours was purchased and was going to be knocked down to become a McMansion that would sit right at the property edge, towering two stories over your home, what would you do?

    When would you find out?
    How would you appeal?
    Where would you go to find the next steps?

    The developer knows the process and has done it a hundred times, they know the people in the permits office, they know the process and timelines.


  2. Thomas (unregistered) on February 9th, 2006 @ 8:13 am

    This doesn’t surprise me. The City was stuck between a historic rock and a very green hard place. Either they preserve the neighborhoods (havens of architectural history, particularly rare in a city that has regularly taken the knock-it-down/build-another approach), or they allowed the development of higher priced real estate (which translates directly into higher property taxes for a city already strapped for cash and in dire need of an all-around infrastructure overhaul). I don’t envy them.

    It does surprise me that there aren’t rules in place already for Morningside.


  3. Cap'n Ken (unregistered) on February 9th, 2006 @ 8:25 am

    Daniel – it’s not quite accurate to refer to a 120-day moratorium as a “ban”. The purpose for such a move (had it been approved) would be to stop “damage” being done because of an inadequate statute. Because of the complexities of drafting and approving ordinances, sometimes a moratorium is needed to bridge the gap. I understand your sentiment, but if there was actually a problem – which the vote confirmed the council doesn’t believe exists – a moratorium is the proper course of action.

    That said, Jonathan’s comment is also not quite based in fact. Nobody can build “right at the property edge” – all zoning classes in Atlanta include side-yard setbacks. But he’s right that builders would rush to get demo permits and the like if they felt their ability to build what they want to build is being threatened – which is why a moratorium would be effective.

    What struck me during this moratorium mess was as I started to look around, I noticed places such as Ansley Park where huge houses are absolutely stuffed onto small lots – close to each other, close to the street – but these houses are 50+ years old. I don’t think many people would say Ansley is an undesirable neighborhood. Just an observation.

    And I’d be interested to hear how people define “McMansion” – in the sense of something the city or residents might consider “bad”. Anybody?


  4. Daniel (unregistered) on February 9th, 2006 @ 8:51 am

    Ken, you are, of course, right. It isn’t a ban, outright. Just a stopping for a period of time. I don’t agree that a moratorium would be the proper action even if the council believed there to be a problem. I think changing the rules would be proper and, as I said in the post, I don’t think rules should take effect before the fact. But we’ll just have to disagree on that point.

    The thing is I’m pretty sure that the zoning laws aren’t perfect in the city and that they probably do need regular adjustment. But the “preservation” of architectural history has a mechanism – buildings can be designated as historical and then there are many other roadblocks put in place to stop them from being altered. If you find a particular building to be historical, then there is a process through which to do this. I’m certain that the Atlanta Preservation Center among other citizen groups just as well educated as the “builders” would be glad to help you.


  5. Jonathan Peterson (unregistered) on February 9th, 2006 @ 9:23 am

    FWIW – when I said property line, I meant setback. The McMansions going up tend to use the mazimum legal house footprint and then go up 3 stories to manage to jam 5,000 sq feet into a lot designed for 1,800 sq ft cottages.

    I think you know a McMansion when you see one. But that said, something significantly larger in a substantially different architectural style. Most of the really egregious ones going in in Highlands are cubes with no architectural detail (it’s all about maximizing sq footage). Generally the builders take the cheap way out, using brick or stone on the front facade, but going with siding on the sides and back, similarly if they bother putting in queen anne or similar period windows, they’ll only do it on the front of the house. Two car street-facing garages are pretty common as well and completely out of character with in-town neighborhoods.

    The end result is the teardown of a perfectly decent $400+ home, they throwing up a poorly constructucted new house that looks like the worst of suburban cookie-cutter homes, only saving $10-20K in construction costs for brick and matching windows. And that will be put on the market for $1.2M. It remains to be seen whether there is a market for such houses. Of the 10 or so I know of in Va-Hi, only 2 have actually sold.


  6. kristina (unregistered) on February 9th, 2006 @ 1:05 pm

    actually the setbacks are often changed when builders ask for a variance, it happens all the time. npu’s and the zoning review board dispense such variances on a regular basis. and often the setbacks are brought down to one, two or three feet from the property line.



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