Marietta City Council eyes townhome moratorium

Apr. 4—The Marietta City Council has advanced a proposal to temporarily ban the construction of townhomes within city limits to its April 11 work session.

Councilman Grif Chalfant is pushing for the moratorium and thinks it could mimic the one that Smyrna first instituted in March 2021 and has extended twice since. Chalfant believes it could quell skyrocketing real estate prices in Marietta and give the city housing that stands the test of time.

"Any attached housing we build becomes very ragged after 20 years. Those rental properties become blighted areas," Chalfant said in an interview with the MDJ. "What we want to do is try to limit the number of places that can become apartments in the city of Marietta."

Chalfant championed the idea of a six-month moratorium at the council's March 28 Judicial and Legislative Committee. The six-month pause would allow the city to investigate potential ordinance changes to limit construction of attached housing like townhomes.

He suggested, for example, requiring any potential townhome developments to be detached, something he thinks could connect residents to their property for a longer period of time.

"That's not the total answer," Chalfant said. "But it's helpful for a person to get the feeling that this is my house ... my little piece of America right here in Marietta."

Chalfant, who was reelected to a four-year term last year, campaigned on the issue of more single-family, owner-occupied housing in the city.

Mayor Steve Tumlin told the MDJ last fall the city had a ratio of 42% owner-occupied to 58% rental homes, a ratio he has been trying to bring into better balance.

Chalfant wants the city to be stricter on developers that come to the council with proposals for owner-occupied townhome developments. According to Chalfant, some companies don't adhere to this initial agreement, and those houses end up as rentals.

"It's been awfully easy for the developers and the builders to come to us and say, 'We're doing attached townhouses, but we're not going to rent them,'" Chalfant said. "The market is changing, and you've got some companies that buy the entire complex and everything has been built to be rented out, and we want to prevent that."

Currently, 95% of any development the city passes must be owner-occupied, but Chalfant admitted that it is a tough rule to enforce.

Chalfant cited the former apartment complexes on Franklin Gateway as an example of how housing that was initially nice slid downhill over time, bringing problems of crime and transiency. The city purchased a number of those apartment complexes with a voter-approved bond a few years ago and razed them, priming that corridor for new development such as the Atlanta United training headquarters.

"They were nice when they went in, but after some years, it became so blighted a lot of our resources went there," he said.

Councilwoman Cheryl Richardson is less critical of townhome developments.

"There are places in the city where townhomes fit, where we already have high-density housing, where we already have either apartments or townhomes right next door," Richardson said.

During the committee meeting, Councilman Joseph Goldstein expressed skepticism about the city needing a moratorium.

"I'm not sure if I am for a moratorium," he said. "There might be a situation where they (townhomes) are appropriate, as opposed to doing an outright ban of them for six months."

City attorney Doug Haynie recommended council members limit any potential moratorium to six months and define their reasoning for instituting one.

"The courts don't like it to be more than six months," Haynie said. "You can extend it, but it has to be relatively short-term."

If the members decide at the April 11 work session they want to move forward with a moratorium, it will move to a formal vote at the council's April 13 meeting.