Decatur’s Response to the Changing Role of Multi-family Development

Decatur’s Response to the Changing Role of Multi-Family Development

Written by Chris Sciarrone

Multi-family development used to feel like the runner-up to single-home neighborhoods. Apartments were a place where you lived while you earned enough money to buy a house. Today however, many people—especially young people—prefer living in quality multi-family locations, especially in high-density, walkable neighborhoods.

Nationwide trends indicate that the millennial generation is moving closer to urban areas, and cities and developers are working to meet this desire. This is true in Carter’s hometown of Atlanta, and my hometown of Decatur.

The City of Decatur occupies a special place in metro Atlanta, inside the perimeter and close to the urban core and also distinct enough to have its own identity. Last year it was named one of the Top Ten Neighborhoods in the U.S., a credit to the city’s long-term vision to develop its downtown into an attractive, walkable, mixed-use area that has become the heart of the community.

In Decatur, we find ourselves in a new development cycle centered on apartment buildings that will address the lack of options in the city for young, middle income professionals and for ‘empty-nesters’ who may no longer wish to own a single family home. The last apartment development in the city was built in 1999. Carter’s new multi-family development, The Place on Ponce, is one of several projects coming on line over the next few years that will address this need.

The Place On Ponce – Rendering

A housing study done a few years ago revealed that the city’s greatest need is for middle income professionals who aren’t in a position to buy or don’t want to be homeowners. These new residents are attracted to Decatur’s walkable, transit-accessible urban lifestyle and will bring a younger demographic to help balance the city’s diversity. This is the primary market for the new apartments at The Place on Ponce.

Multi-family residential projects also provide a net financial benefit to the city, especially compared to single family homes. The Decatur Downtown Development Authority and the city’s staff are charged with looking out for the long-term sustainability of our community. Part of that responsibility means we must be mindful of the City of Decatur’s ability to continue to provide services by broadening the tax base beyond a reliance on single-family homeowners. A review of school enrollment addresses showed that only 3% of the units in multi-family housing developments in the city produced school-aged children. The majority of these units are occupied by young professionals and empty nesters. This means a multi-family development generates significantly more revenue than the cost of the high-quality services the city and school system provide.

The Place on Ponce, which is currently under construction and scheduled to be delivered in the spring of 2015, underscores the change in the nature of the multi-family locations. Located in the heart of downtown Decatur, it will have amenity areas including a clubhouse, fitness center, resort-style pool and outdoor courtyards, as well as access to 10,000 square feet of retail space and the nearby Decatur MARTA station.

The Place On Ponce – Rendering

Decatur’s development efforts are based on long-term plans that are the result of extensive community input. Residents have consistently said that they value diversity in our community and want us to continue to be a city that is open and inviting to people of all ages and stages of life. Multi-family developments such as The Place on Ponce are a key part of achieving this vision.

Chris is Chair of the Decatur Downtown Development Authority, an architect with the firm Perkins and Will, and a resident of the Oakhurst neighborhood since 1996.

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