Builders, residents ready to throw down over tear downs

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt October 8, 2013

Builders in Decatur want the City Commission to step back from a plan to place a temporary halt on new permits for single-family tear downs and tree removal.

Residents in favor of the idea say they want to protect the city’s tree canopy. They also support temporarily suspending new permits for tear-downs.

Both sides showed up in force at the Oct. 7 City Commission. City Commissioners agreed to put the proposed moratorium on the Oct. 21 meeting agenda.

Mayor Jim Baskett spent the public comments portion of the meeting refereeing the speakers. He told speakers that the City Commission doesn’t ordinarily talk about an ordinance two weeks before considering it, but “We did it tonight because this is stepping way out of our normal range of options.”

“We would ordinarily never discuss a moratorium of this nature,” he said. 

If enacted, the moratorium would go into effect Oct. 22 and be in place until Jan. 24. That will give a city consultant enough time to provide a report as part of creating a Unified Development Ordinance for the city. The move is intended to “preserve the status quo” so the consultant and staff can “Identify the primary areas of concern from the community” about tree removal and tear downs.

Builders who spoke at the meeting warned the city will receive a flurry of new permit application between now and the next meeting on Oct. 21.

Arlene Dean, with Arlene Dean Quality Homes, said that the idea will make it impossible for her to close one of her pending deals with a local home owner.

“I’m in the process of purchasing a house from an elderly couple who don’t want to pay their taxes in November,” she said. “They can’t afford it.”

Decatur Heights resident Babs Fiorentino said there are five tear-downs on her street. She was unconvinced by the concerns the builders and home buyers raised at the meeting.

“I don’t believe these people,” she said. “There’s nowhere else to go in this area. … I don’t believe your threats.”

City Manger Peggy Merriss said in her notes to commissioners that the city has received numerous “concerns” about developers tearing down single-family homes.

As property values increase in the city, the taxes are becoming too expensive for some older residents. They are selling to developers who knock down older houses, replacing them with bigger, more expensive ones.

Baskett said the city needs the moratorium so it can get a clearer picture of where things stand.

“It seems appropriate to us to try to hold things together while we approach that,” Baskett said. “There will likely be a flurry of activity. Better for two weeks than two months.”

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of

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  • “Tear down throw down”


  • C. L.

    It’s not just the elderly who are having a hard time keeping up with the rising taxes.

  • Eric Rawlings

    The way this initial proposal was worded, it said development or redevelopment of single family properties. How else can you take this other than to assume they want to stop people from renovating as well. I have a small child and a two bedroom house. We’re bursting at the seams. I didn’t buy into Decatur 10 years ago to have the City tell me I can’t expand my house now that I have a child and need the space. 2 bedroom houses in Oakhurst are only worth the price of land, so is my investment going to be compromised?

    • Reader

      Aren’t you one of the people demolishing homes and killing trees? You bought into Decatur to turn a profit. Period. End of story.

    • Your Neighbor

      This moratorium does not affect renovations. Go forth and expand. Just know that the current tree rules are much tougher for you as a home owner than a developer who buys from you and cuts everything down to build a McMansion. That is why we need this temporary moratorium.

  • C. de Cuba

    I’d be more inclined to agree with a moratorium if it weren’t such a blunt instrument, as is the current proposed version. I can see some limits on teardowns (especially to help protect healthy trees that don’t pose a danger to the existing home & those adjacent), but renovations? Why? Wouldn’t renovations (done within an appropriate scale) actually help preserve homes that might otherwise be torn down?

  • Nutella

    The proposed moratoroum is an over-reaction to appease a few very vocal extremists. As a longtime Decatur property owner, I am *thrilled* to see so many dilapidated, poorly kept – and in some cases abandoned – homes being replaced with new construction. I am delighted that families are excited to move into Decatur and to add to our tax base and our active community. By halting demolition, we are going to allow eyesore properties to remain, prevent people who want/need to sell from selling and keep investors out of our city. Let’s keep Decatur moving forward, onward and upward!!!!

  • Thanks for all of these great comments. Please look at my article on apartments. It’s going up tomorrow morning.

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