By Bill Adams, MBA, CCIM, CRB, ALC
Earlier this year the City of Atlanta proposed a change in the zoning ordinance
affecting properties within the city limits near MARTA rail stations. The proposed
ordinance would change the single-family zoning districts with an R-4 and R-4A
designation along with the R-5 duplex zoning category located within a half mile
walk of a rail station to MR-MU.
This designation would allow the building of between four and 12 residential units
in the formally single family and duplex neighborhoods. The goal would be to
create more density near the rail stations along with more affordable housing
options. If one or two units are affordable, defined as accommodating a tenant
who earns 60% of the Area Median Income (AMI), there would be a density bonus
that would allow one or two additional units. The proposal received pushback
from the communities near the stations.
The idea of transit-oriented development – or TOD – near rail stations makes all
the sense in the world. Living within walking distance of a MARTA rail station
would make it possible to live without an automobile — or at least eliminate one
car in a two-car household. Over the past decade, well over 1,000 apartment
units have been developed on land that was formally underutilized rail station
parking lots. There are at least five hundred or so more units in the planning or
The King Memorial MARTA rail station, located between Grant Park and the King
Historic District/Old 4 th Ward is a fitting example of an area with density around
the station and an example of the problems presented by the zoning proposal.
Within one half mile of the King Station there are about 3,000 new multifamily
units along with almost 600 multifamily units currently under construction. Also
within a half mile walk is the North Grant Park Historic District.
This part of Atlanta’s Grant Park neighborhood has a housing stock that consists
mostly of, restored, expensive single-family houses that date from the 1880’s. The
historic neighborhood is both on the federal National Register of Historic Places
and has a City of Atlanta Historic Zoning designation. Any new development in the
district, including changes in the size of an existing property, would have to be
approved by the city’s Urban Design Commission.
The MARTA rail line that serves the King Memorial Station opened in 1979. In the
late 1970s, the area around the station where the new 3,000 multifamily units
have been built consisted of two housing projects and numerous economically
obsolete commercial and industrial properties. The north Grant Park
neighborhood, within walking distance of the King station, consisted of mostly
inexpensive, dilapidated houses. The area was placed on the National Register of
Historic Places around 1980. North Grant Park became a City of Atlanta Historic
District in 2000.
The area around the King Memorial MARTA station is like the communities
around many of the other rail stations in the MARTA system — gentrified and
mostly single-family neighborhoods. One reason for the community pushback is
that the proposal was a “one size fits all.” A better approach would have been to
analyze the area around each station and develop a realistic proposal that would
be compatible with development opportunities within that half-mile radius.
Unfortunately, the proposal did not consider the changes that have occurred in
these communities since the 1970s. While the zoning proposal was well-
intentioned, it was about forty-plus years too late.