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Repeal the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) Rule in the UDO, or increase it to 80%

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With one fell swoop, the City of Decatur cut in half the floor area a home can have when it enacted the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) rule in 2008.  Doing so had nothing to do with impervious surface area or any environmental issues; those are addressed by a separate set of rules, such as the Lot Coverage Ratio, Setbacks, story limits, and height limits.


This reduced allowable home size means a reduction in value of the average home in Decatur of anywhere from $50,000 to $150,000 according to one real estate agent.  It also means many homeowners will be stuck with homes that are inadequate by modern standards, even though there are numerous homes already in existence that exceed the FAR limit. 


In fact, so many homes exceeded the limit, that they had to make an “exception” for basements.  But this means that homeowners with a basement get to have a much larger home than those who don’t have a basement.  This may lead some to tear down their existing old-style bungalows and embark on new construction with a basement.


The vast majority of homeowners in Decatur had no idea this rule was being enacted back in 2008, when it was made (in the height of the recession, when no one was thinking about renovating).  Because of the far reaching impact to home values and property rights, the City Commission should have put it before the citizens in the form of a referendum.  Instead, a small group of influential citizens urged the passage of this rule.


At it’s heart, this rule is unfair because it creates special classes of homeowners with different rights:  Those with nice large modernized homes and Those who cannot also have the same.  Ultimately, because a small influential group of people wanted to force everyone to live in homes as close to the original 1920’s bungalows as possible (even though they were built to be only weekend homes for wealthy Atlantans and were never adequate for full time family use even by the standards of that day).


The rule calls for total floor area to be no more than 40% of the lot square footage.  This should not be confused with the 40% Lot Coverage rule, which protects the environment and prevents excessive impervious surface area!


Here is the problem:


Most homes are between 20% and 35% lot coverage with the foot print of the main structure.  Very few if any are under 20%.  If you add a second story, you must double the first floor, which takes you over 40% total for anything over 20% on the first floor.  So most homeowners with a single story home, no basement, cannot even add a complete 2nd story.  The attached picture shows a home where a partial "hump" was added to stay within the FAR limit.


Very common in Decatur is a 30% footprint two story home with a basement and partial use of attic space with a dormer or two. 


This gives a floor square footage of about 80% for many existing homes ( 30% for basement, 30% for first floor, and 20% for 2nd floor).  Some even exceed 100% on the FAR, while still managing to stay within the 40% Lot Coverage Rule.


But a home right next door with the same size foot print (30% of lot) and no basement can't even add a full second level or use any of the floor space under the attic under the new rule added in 2008.


So the rule creates special classes of homeowners with different rights as far as size of home they can have.   Which is inherently unfair, and why I am asking for the FAR rule to either be eliminated or modified to give 80% to EVERYONE, inclusive of basement and garage.


The irony is, that if square footage is so evil in and of itself, without regard to lot coverage, why do we allow an exception for basements?  Why not the same exception for garage or attic space?


If home A can have a basement, why can't home B , without a basement, have a comparable amount of space by adding a FULL second floor and/or using the space in their attic?


This rule goes too far.  It is unrealistically constraining.  It’s intent may have even been good, but the way it is written, it is  very unfair and abusive to home owners.  It serves no public interest but takes a lot away from the rights of property owners.  It doesn't even "preserve" the nature of the neighborhood, since so many homes already don't comply.




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Wylie Roberts needs your help with “Decatur City Council: Eliminate the Arbitrary Floor Area Ratio Rule in the UDO That Violates Homeowner's Rights”. Join Wylie and 29 supporters today.