Duplex owners at odds with city ordinance
by Nikki Wiley
November 03, 2013 12:12 AM | 1852 views | 0 0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
MARIETTA — Replacing duplexes with single-family homes is the aim of a new city ordinance that has landed some homeowners in the crosshairs of code enforcement.

Noel Palmer has been renovating a duplex he owns over the last year, sinking thousands of dollars into the project. He intended to live on one side of the home and rent the other.

During renovations, Palmer disconnected the electricity from the duplex at 120 Gramling St. off Powder Springs Street.

That caused him to lose the right to use the home as a duplex.

A zoning change that happened in the 1970s has sent Palmer and other owners of duplex homes before the Marietta City Council requesting permission to use the building the way it has always been used.

“When most of these duplexes were built — some were built in the ’40s, ’50s, ’60s — apparently the zoning didn’t address duplexes or they permitted them in the single-family zoning category at the time,” said Rusty Roth, planning and zoning manager for the city.

If a duplex that has been grandfathered in under the newer single-family zoning category is vacant on one side, it loses its status and must be converted into a single-family home.

“The only reason I lost the grandfathering is I was not aware that I needed to have power,” Palmer told the City Council on Wednesday.

Palmer plans to dig back into his wallet and spend the $500 needed to apply for a rezoning and attempt to convince the city’s planning commission and council to let him use the structure as a duplex.

“The issue is bigger than me so the $500 doesn’t bother me as much. I’m willing to go through the pain and expense to prove my point,” Palmer said.

That point, he said, is multi-family homes, like duplexes, aren’t inherently bad or troublesome.

The ordinance is part of an attempt to increase the number of owner-occupied, single-family homes in Marietta.

Marietta has about 27,000 housing units, according to the 2010 Census.

But only about 43 percent of those homes are occupied by their owner. That’s an increase from the numbers seen after the 2000 census, when just 38 percent of Marietta homes were owner-occupied.

Some council members say Palmer’s situation isn’t the first they’ve seen.

“This is not the only situation in the neighborhood. There are several in the neighborhood who are in the same boat,” said Councilman Johnny Sinclair, adding that the ordinance affects multiple areas of town.

And needs are different across town, said Sinclair, who is a Realtor.

“If we (require the property to be converted into single-family housing), it’s going to make them less marketable,” Sinclair said. “It’s just not that marketable as a single-family home.”

Councilman Anthony Coleman, too, knows someone who has been impacted.

Coleman said a resident who has lived in a duplex since 1972 wanted to renovate and rent the other side of the home, but was told the house had to become a single-family home after one side was vacant for more than six months. The council briefly discussed tweaking the ordinance Wednesday, but ultimately decided to consider situations like Palmer’s on a case-by-case basis.

“We have to be careful to make a broad sweeping change,” said Councilman Jim King.

Mayor Steve Tumlin agrees considering cases individually is the way to go.

The area where Palmer’s duplex is located is surrounded by other multi-family housing units.

“If every other house on the street was single-family and you have one standalone duplex, I think we hold tight,” Palmer said.

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