In response to today’s unanimous approval for the Assembly TAD by the DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, I wanted to share a few thoughts as it relates to the county and to the community. (To figure out what a TAD is, check out this list of FAQs by InvestAtlanta.)
As a citizen of unincorporated DeKalb, I realize the approval of the TAD for the Assembly development will not only benefit Doraville, but it will also benefit the rest of DeKalb County. Our county must start thinking of itself as a whole county – not as a North DeKalb and a South DeKalb. What happens in one part of the county affects the rest of the county, and I’m glad that the Board of Commissioners made a decision that reflects that mentality.
A Blighted Property
Since the GM plant closed, the proposed Assembly site has been a form of blight for the Doraville neighborhood. This abandoned property has brought no economic or social value to residents, businesses, or schools. Environmental hazards have gone unaddressed.
While the county and metro Atlanta area have grown over the past decade, the TAD redevelopment area has declined. Additionally, the TAD Area has more people living below the poverty line than the average for the rest of DeKalb County.
Approving a TAD to assist with the development of Assembly will change this more rapidly. With the prospect that the area will become something that benefits the community (especially compared with an abandoned warehouse or, now, a cleared wasteland), I think that the county made the right choice to enter into this IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement).
To read more about the history of redeveloping this site, check out pages 54-60 in this 2011 report from the Center for Automotive Research on Repurposing Former Automotive Manufacturing Sites.
Not Your Typical Gentrification
This form of development is different from the type that has occurred in Atlanta, forcing many from their homes and their neighborhoods. Some of our DeKalb residents who experience low incomes would actually benefit from this development in the form of higher property values and more amenities in the surrounding areas.
Whereas in many other gentrifying areas in metro Atlanta, people have been forced from their homes due to higher rents/taxes or code enforcements, this redevelopment would not displace anyone on the Assembly site since it’s currently vacant. We actually have an opportunity to advocate for affordable housing options to be created close to public transit, something that those without higher incomes depend on for mobility. (And I will be a tireless advocate for preservation of affordable housing options along Buford Highway.)
Even though the county and school district will not receive the actual increase in taxes from the TAD Redevelopment Area during the 25-year period, the surrounding areas will see an increase in property value, which will compensate for any loss in tax revenues within the TAD area (according to the Bleakly Report).
This development has the ability to draw developers to other parts of DeKalb since this TAD approval shows that the county is friendly to development of blighted and abandoned properties and is ready for business, social, and residential investment.
This incremental growth (in addition to other initiatives) throughout the county will hopefully help slow the rate of gentrification, allowing those who live in the communities a chance to “ride the wave” toward economic improvement.
What About Traffic?
This development will also bring more jobs and more residents to DeKalb County, as well as attract major employers who are looking to locate close to public transit – something many major employers are considering when choosing a location (eg. State Farm and Dunwoody, Mercedes-Benz and Sandy Springs).
With the approval of the TAD, necessary improvements to infrastructure will be possible. Without road improvements, an area already known for its terrible traffic (i.e. Spaghetti Junction) would be even more unbearable.
What About the School System?
From what I’ve seen in the reports and projections, the increases in these other areas of economic growth will compensate for any loss in tax revenues during the life of the TAD. If we avoid some of the mistakes made between the Atlanta Public Schools BOE, Atlanta’s City Council, and the Atlanta Beltline, our county school system could benefit from this agreement.
As an additional benefit to the school system, perhaps a portion of the land could be set aside for a DeKalb County School System elementary and/or high school, something Mayor Pittman has vocally supported for her city. If this occurs, then I could see a somewhat convincing reason for the DeKalb County BOE to approve the TAD (which will have to happen separately).
However, I will be following up on these issues in a separate post that discusses whether or not the DeKalb BOE should approve a separate IGA (Intergovernmental Agreement) and TAD for this development – the issue is not as straight-forward for me as is the city and county agreement.
I know there are other ways of financing this development, but with the known environmental issues and magnitude of the project (connecting Assembly with MARTA), the TAD is a valuable — if not necessary — mechanism for funding this project. Not approving the TAD would delay this project for years, if past financing failures for this project are any indicator.
If we put mechanisms in place for accountability, this project and the county as a whole will benefit financially, socially, economically, and environmentally. Additionally, this project can help revive a city that has suffered unemployment, blight, declining populations, and lack of financial investment.
The TAD helps speed this process along.