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Roswell limits apartment growth along major corridors

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ROSWELL, Ga. — The Roswell City Council took another step March 28 to move the city away from high-density, multi-family apartments along its major corridors.

The council voted unanimously to adopt 16 text and map amendments to the city’s 2040 Comprehensive Plan that will promote additional mixed-use projects.

The comprehensive plan provides long-range policy direction for land use, transportation, economic development, housing, public facilities, intergovernmental agreements and natural or cultural resources.

One of the new amendments removes residential townhouse and multi-family zoning along the Holcomb Bridge Character Area in favor of parkway village, a designation that preserves the historic rural character of the area by saving trees and promoting pedestrian-friendly amenities.

Another removes civic zoning from compatible future zonings of the estate residential character area. Civic uses include anything from poultry farms and places of worship to helicopter pads, government buildings, cell towers and schools.

Two other amendments change the Arnold Mill Road, Cagle Road, Etris Road and Cox Road area from neighborhood service and neighborhood residential to suburban residential, and remove industrial flex from future zonings of the Highway 9 Character Area.

Providing clarity for developers

Councilman Mike Palermo said the amendments do not change any of the existing zonings but are intended to provide clarity to developers on what the City Council prefers in terms of mapping, zoning categories and best uses on a property. Palermo said a developer can still request to rezone a property, and the City Council can then decide to deny or approve the request with conditions.

The 2040 Comprehensive Plan was adopted on Oct. 12, 2021. However, the former mayor and City Council initiated a slate of proposed amendments nearly a month later, and a neighborhood meeting was held on Jan. 13, 2022, to gather public input.

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs requires all local governments to update their comprehensive plan every five years. Palermo said Community Development Director Jason Gaines suggested it is common practice for city officials to make changes before that period to ensure it aligns with the views of the community.

Claire Snedeker, who served on the stakeholder committee for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, said one goal was to make residential zoning categories available in multiple character areas in the city rather than making a one-size-fits-all in just one character area.

Residents share concerns

Still, a group of residents spoke for nearly three hours at the March 28 City Council meeting both in favor and opposition to the amendments. One group claimed the amendments would worsen the housing shortage and cause housing prices and rental rates to increase. Another faction said the amendments would help to attract more businesses.

The latest S&P CoreLogic Case-Shiller Index reports some home prices in 20 major cities rose 19 percent in January from a year ago, and in Atlanta, prices rose 22 percent. Residential real estate costs have continued to climb because of a shortage of homes on the market and pent-up demand from buyers amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

East Roswell resident Elizabeth Goldsmith, who has been a Fulton County teacher for 26 years, said she knows many local teachers who have left their jobs for cities like Alpharetta and Woodstock because they cannot afford to live in Roswell. In the past, employers, like restaurants, have also indicated they cannot find workers willing to drive from other cities to staff service industry jobs.

Making room for business

But City Councilman Peter Vanstrom said Roswell needs commercial business to offset the tax burden on residents. He suggested using the city’s redevelopment space as one way to do that.

“Mixed-use is a great way to make and maximize the value of the land that’s there, and we have to work with the developers to get that done,” Vanstrom said. “… We’re not anti-apartments by any stretch. We’re trying to be stewards of the redevelopment that needs to happen in this town that is going to be most beneficial for all residents.”

During his campaign for City Council, Vanstrom said he would not support building any more high-density apartments. He cited residential projects, such as the development at Sun Valley Road, as a total failure. The project, approved in 2017, was set to replace an 18-acre shopping center with a grocery store, office, retail, restaurant space and up to 300 apartment units. In the end, only the apartments were built.

Sun Valley Roswell

Shown is the Sun Valley development on the corner of Alpharetta Highway as of March 29. The project, which was approved in 2017, was set to replace an 18-acre shopping center with a grocery store, office, retail, restaurant space and up to 300 apartment units. In the end, only the apartments were built.

Mayor Kurt Wilson also said that Roswell has historically and “dramatically” done more for affordable housing than any other sister city in North Fulton County except for Sandy Springs, because it has a housing authority. He said 35 percent of Roswell’s housing is rental, with the vast majority being garden-style apartments.

“A city does have the right to clear its own destiny in terms of how it wants to grow and how it wants to build out,” Wilson said. “There are some cities who make a decision to say we’re going to be high-density stand-alone multi-family apartments. This city, Roswell, is not going to grow that way.”

Affordable housing in Roswell

East Roswell resident Jason Sabatino, who also served on the stakeholder committee for the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, agreed.

He referenced a map in a recent Atlanta Business Chronicle article that showed Roswell as an island for affordable housing in the North Atlanta area. The article analyzed home values and mortgage data to estimate where homeowners would require the most income to afford a home. In Roswell, it was under $100,000.

“So, when I hear people talk about affordability and we need to have more affordable housing, we are the affordable housing option already in the North Fulton, North Atlanta area,” Sabatino said. “… We are not removing apartments anywhere. We are simply stating that certain zoning types need to be considered for certain places in the city.”

Roswell nonprofit brings affordable housing to forefront

Roswell resident John Evans said he would like to see the city stick to a plan for future growth. He cited the Holcomb Bridge Road East Revitalization Study, which states that more than 50 percent of East Roswell is made up of apartments. He questioned why then in 2019, the City Council approved a plan to replace an empty Super Target on Holcomb Bridge Road with more than 400 apartments and townhomes.  

“There’s a stark difference between the development that’s going on in East Roswell versus West Roswell, and I think that the Target exemplifies that, because we’re moving away from any kind of businesses that are there,” Evans said. “… It seems to me that what you’re doing now is very important as you figure out what it is you want to do, where you want apartments, what kind of apartments you want, and I encourage you to stick to that.”

Palermo made the motion to approve the resolution, which was seconded by Councilwoman Christine Hall. It passed 5-0, with Councilman Marcelo Zapata having an excused absence.

The amendments will now go to the Georgia Department of Community Affairs and the Atlanta Regional Commission for approval.

Reach Chamian Cruz at 770-847-8079. Follow her on Twitter @xchamian.