Mayor Kelly Girtz has put off a proposal to direct new property tax revenue from upcoming developments toward blighted neighborhoods in East and North Athens after Athens-Clarke County commissioners asked for more time to consider the potential ramifications. A vote previously scheduled for Nov. 5 was put off until sometime next spring.
“What I don’t want to do is call for a near-term vote when there are some long-term questions,” Girtz said at a public hearing Oct. 29.
The proposal involves tax allocation districts, a redevelopment tool governments use to encourage development in blighted areas and allocate the additional tax dollars collected from those developments towards improvements within the TAD boundaries. One of the TADs Girtz is proposing extends from the General Time and Southern Mill developments near Chase Street and the Loop north along Newton Bridge Road. The other takes in the next phase of the student housing complex The Mark, as well as future development around the Classic Center arena (assuming it was approved at the ballot box Nov. 5) and runs up North Avenue and Danielsville Road. Revenue collected from those developments would be earmarked toward infrastructure and affordable housing in areas further out that have experienced disinvestment, thereby encouraging more private investment as well, according to Girtz.
Some commissioners disagreed with the location of the proposed TADs. “I’d like to have a much larger discussion about where the TADs should be,” said Commissioner Andy Herod, who represents the Eastside. He mentioned Georgia Square Mall and Lexington Road as potential sites. Hawthorne Avenue and Tallassee Road could also benefit from a TAD, added Commissioner Tim Denson, who represents that area.
“The mall seems to be a pretty obvious place we should be talking about,” Denson said. Georgia Square Mall’s representative, Commissioner Jerry NeSmith, said he has met with the owner. “I’d like to use a TAD to give him motivation for some of his ideas,” NeSmith said. (Commissioner Melissa Link’s idea? A water park. “That’s my pipe dream,” she joked.) In addition, “Jennings Mill Road is ready to pop as something,” NeSmith said.
But unlike Newton Bridge Road and the eastern edge of downtown, private developers aren’t currently eyeing Lexington Road or Atlanta Highway, so the value of a TAD could be limited there. “You do need that catalyst project,” Link said.
TADs are a commonly used tool throughout Georgia and the U.S., but never in Athens, although voters approved the concept in 2006. That was a long time ago, and commissioners need more time to educate themselves and their constituents, Commissioner Allison Wright said.
Girtz had pushed for a quick vote because property values are set Jan. 1 for tax purposes, so the TAD will become less valuable next year as development continues. The TADs were estimated to raise a combined $400 million over 20 years, if approved in 2019. “I don’t think [the lost revenue] is going to be overwhelming,” Girtz told Flagpole.
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