Allowing smaller homes for senior citizens considered
by Sarah Fay Campbell
Should elderly Cowetans who want to downsize into a smaller home on their own property be allowed to build a house smaller than 1,725 square feet?
That was a topic of much discussion at Tuesday's meeting of the Coweta County Board of Commissioners.
Coweta County's zoning regulations require all new homes to be at least 1,725 square feet. There is an exception for homes in existing subdivisions that have smaller houses. Those homes can be 1,450 square feet.
Commission Chairman Bob Blackburn proposed allowing a smaller house for retirees who own 50 acres or more. Other commissioners were in favor of allowing the smaller home, but not of the 50-acre requirement.
Blackburn said he has heard of elderly Cowetans who live on large tracts of land in the family home place. But that home has become more than the elderly couples can handle. "What people in this age group are looking for is something in the 1,150-square-foot range," Blackburn said.
He is proposing that the smaller homes be allowed only under specific circumstances. The homes would be single-story and must be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. At least one of the residents would have to be at least 55, and the homes would be deed restricted so that they would always have to be occupied by someone 55 or older.
"We're not asking for these to pop up all over the place," Blackburn said. But there are a lot of older people who don't want to move into a retirement community or assisted living facility. And they don't want to live with their children. They want to stay on their land. They just want to live in a smaller, more convenient home that is easier to take care of, he said.
Blackburn said another reason is maintaining rural integrity. "I think it's more in line with what the market is asking for, but in a unique area," he said. "We appreciate our country folk and the land that they have held, in some farms it's generational land."
A part of maintaining Coweta's rural integrity is allowing people to maintain large tracts of land "so they are not cut into small tracts," Blackburn said.
Commissioner Al Smith asked Planning Director Robert Tolleson if there are any allowances for guest homes. There are, said Tolleson, but they still have to be 1,725 square feet.
The change could be made by creating a specific zoning district, Tolleson said.
Commissioner Rodney Brooks asked about pool houses. Those are allowed, Tolleson said, but not as dwellings. They can have kitchens but not bedrooms.
There is also an allowance for adding an apartment to an existing home, but it must be under the same roof and can't have separate utility meters.
"Some people really don't want to be up under their kids. They want to be independent at least as long as they can," Blackburn said.
Smith said he thinks the county should allow homes around 1,450 square feet.
Commissioner Tim Lassetter said he has a problem with the 50-acre restriction, and Commissioner Paul Poole agreed.
"Someone that has 50 acres can probably afford to build a larger house than someone who only has 10 acres," Lassetter said.
There are a lot of tracts of 20 acres and less, Blackburn said, but not that many of 50 and greater.
"If I only own five acres, why shouldn't I have a right to build a home like that on my five acres?" asked Poole.
"Why not add onto the house that is there?" asked Blackburn.
"For the same reason you said," Poole said — people don't necessarily want to live with their children. "I just don't see where the 50 acres is fair."
And it's the conservation use program that helps people keep their large tracts, Poole said. That program will help preserve rural character "more than any home ever does."
A problem with allowing smaller homes is that smaller homes are typically valued lower for tax purposes.
That's why the current requirement is in place.
Smith said he wants there to be a measure of fairness and "not show any kind of partiality to someone because they have more acres. Because you've got more acreage you can build a smaller house, but because I've got less acres I have to build a bigger house?" Smith asked.
"That's not going to make a whole lot of sense outside this room."
The commissioners voted to discuss the issue further at a future meeting.