City DopeNews

Commission Approves Tax Districts, Downtown Apartments and Parking Deck

A map of the proposed Lexington Road TAD. Credit: Athens-Clarke County

West Broad Street, Lexington Road, North Avenue, Newton Bridge Road, Georgia Square Mall and the eastern edge of downtown are targeted for redevelopment under a proposal the Athens-Clarke County Commission approved last week.

The commission tentatively approved those six tax allocation districts (TADs) last week. If the districts are formally approved later this fall, property tax revenue from those districts will be set aside to entice new development. Tax rates remain the same—all the revenue is drawn from new development.

TADs set the current property taxes within the district at a baseline; then additional revenue from new development and rising property values is set aside for a period of years to be spent on infrastructure in blighted areas or to pay back bonds for infrastructure built up front. When the TAD expires, the added tax revenue can be spent on anything. An example is Atlantic Station in Midtown Atlanta, where the city used a TAD to remove soil contamination from a long-shuttered steel mill, clearing the way for a mixed use development. 

In Athens’ case, TADs could be used to build bike lanes and sidewalks or add a park and a transit hub to the mall and encourage redeveloping empty factories on Newton Bridge Road, filling vacant commercial properties or redeveloping outdated apartment complexes, Individual projects will be tailored to fit the needs of whatever private developments ACC approves.

Stakeholder groups will be part of the process, and developers will be required to sign “community benefit agreements,” pledging them to provide services like job training in exchange for TAD benefits.

“There is still a lot of concern about TADs being connected to gentrification, and people are very leery,” said Commissioner Ovita Thornton, who pushed to add the language about community benefits to the framework the commission approved Sept. 1.

“I think it’s a great concept,” Manager Blaine Williams said.

The six districts together make up about 6.6% of ACC’s property tax base and are worth over $1 billion combined. Revenue will depend on the value of new projects and how long the TAD lasts, but could potentially be tens of millions of dollars. Eligible uses for the money include transportation, water and sewer infrastructure, affordable housing, parks, economic development and youth programs.

The commission will formally vote to approve the TADs in November, then send them on to the Clarke County Board of Education to sign off on whether to commit the school portion of property taxes to redevelopment efforts. The TADs would take effect Dec. 31, when properties’ assessed tax values are set for 2021. Mayor Kelly Girtz abandoned an effort to create TADs last fall due to the tight timeline, but the county has been laying more groundwork ever since, holding work sessions so commissioners could further vet potential districts and briefing the BOE on the topic.

The commission also approved an agreement with the Athens Downtown Development Authority for an unrelated development on a county-owned parking lot at Hoyt and Jackson streets just north of downtown. Plans call for a 560-space parking deck, 130 residential units—including senior housing—and space for artists, artisans and craftspeople.

Girtz and commissioners added provisions requiring the development to be built sustainably and energy efficient, and requiring that 25% of the units be set aside as affordable for residents making less than 80% of the area’s median income.

Commissioner Tim Denson said he was happy to see the county using its leverage to gain concessions. “That is the first step we have to be doing if we’re ever going to take care of this affordable-housing situation,” he said.

In other business, the commission approved a multi-use path along Cherokee Road; bike lanes on South Hull, South Rocksprings and South Lumpkin streets; and sidewalks on Holman Avenue and Magnolia Street. It also changed a law regarding home-operated daycares allowing them to care for up to six children instead of four. 

This post has been updated to correct the percentage of affordable units in the ADDA development.