Senior housing ordinance faces criticism

CONYERS - The county's proposed senior living zoning ordinance was criticized this week during its first reading as being unusable and ignoring the needs of lower-income seniors.

The new ordinance would add a senior housing element to the county's existing collaborative residential subdivision (CRS) zoning. If approved, developers could build higher-density, single-family detached subdivisions using the senior housing element, which would allow a reduced minimum lot size from 10,000 square feet to 8,000 square feet.

The Rockdale County Board of Commissioners approved the first reading during its meeting Tuesday. A second reading is scheduled for Nov. 25, at which point the commissioners could vote to adopt the ordinance.

County planners limited the senior living zoning element of the ordinance to a 2-mile radius from Interstate 20. They said the reason for this was to have access to sewer since it is a high-density zoning category. The locale is also near many services seniors would use such as the hospital, the county senior center and retail outlets.

However, during the public comment period Tuesday, local resident Frank Culbreath told the commissioners the document fell short of encouraging senior housing and criticized it for not including multifamily housing.

"The draft I received was short-term thinking but no long-term planning," Culbreath said.

Accommodating housing for seniors has been spurred by the Atlanta Regional Commission, which expects a population boom of people 55 years and older in metro Atlanta by 2030.

Recent changes in the federal Fair Housing Act now allow local governments to zone for senior citizens and place restrictions on who could live there based on age.

The city of Conyers and the Conyers Housing Authority agreed last month to participate in a regional Senior Housing Charrette with the ARC in February. Conyers is one of six cities invited to join the charrette.

City officials said the general area to be studied is the area from West Avenue to Green Street, past the J.P. Carr facility and City Hall up to Interstate 20.

Culbreath said in light of the growth projections, the county's ordinance as written would not provide sufficient housing for all seniors.

"The folks in Remington House and Silver Springs may be able to afford this, but not everybody will be able to live in a development like this," Culbreath said after the Board of Commissioners meeting.

He suggested the county allow contained septic systems for senior living developments, which would then make way for developments further out in the county where sewer is not available.

Culbreath operates a nonprofit organization that develops affordable housing for senior citizens. He said his group is focusing on sites in Newton and Henry counties for such development, but not in Rockdale since the ordinances do not cover multifamily housing.

Commissioner Jason Hill described the senior living ordinance as a "first step," and said county planners were working on adding a component for multifamily housing. He echoed what county planners said early on when drafting the ordinance that it is difficult for the government to legislate who lives in such developments. Hill said private developers are in a better position than the local government to ensure that seniors only are living in housing marketed to them.

Commissioner JaNice Van Ness asked Culbreath to list out his concerns about the ordinance and present them to the county planners before the commissioners vote on the second reading.

Jay Jones can be reached at jay.jones@rockdalecitizen.com.