A terrific site for affordable homes, if only there weren't a sewer line

By David Pendered

MARTA intends to sell nearly a half-acre of vacant land that looked like a prime candidate for a development of affordably priced homes near Carey Park, in Northwest Atlanta. The minimum bid was $6,200, low enough to take land costs almost out of the equation. Then a buyer asked about that sewer line.

Carey Park, stone wall

The developers of Carey Park, located 1,000 feet west of the land MARTA plans to sell, took pains to build stone retaining walls that stand to this day. File/Credit: David Pendered

  • Question: “The City is currently installing a new sewer line across the MARTA parcel, which means the buildable area on the parcel will be greatly reduced. Was this finding included in the appraisal?”
  • MARTA’s Response: “Yes, it was considered by the appraiser. The appraiser recognized unbuildable portion of the property in the report and reflected it in the value.”

The property is located off Hollywood Boulevard, west of the future park and reservoir that to be built around the old Bellwood Quarry. MARTA lists the address as 2283 Brooks Ave. NW. That’s different from the address of 0 Brooks Dr., as listed by the Fulton County Tax Assessor. This variance is one of those quirks that can make land difficult to track in certain parts of the city.

There was a time in the not-too-distant past that speculators had their eyes on this part of the city, which stretches from Grove Park through Carey Park. MARTA’s parcel was valued as high as $39,400 for four years in the mid 2000s, according to Fulton County’s tax assessor. Then the Great Recession erased the paper value by half, and then the county dropped the value to a low of $13,000.

Until the sewer line came into play, the site had a lot going for it as a potential site for future development of homes affordable to those earning the salaries of police officers. That future is less clear in light of the sewer line.

The sewer line evidently is significant enough to have knocked the land’s value down by two-thirds. And that’s based on Fulton County’s appraised value of $19,800, according to tax records.

MARTA, surplus land, brooks avenue

MARTA has reduced the minimum bid for nearly a half-acre of land off Hollywood Road because much of the parcel can’t be developed after the city installs a sewer line. Credit: itsmarta.com

MARTA’s appraiser evidently set the price for the minimum bid at about a third of the county’s value, reflecting the inability to develop part of the property.

The price remains stellar for a site in the city. But the glow is off the deal because so much of the land can’t be developed. The remaining portion could be reserved for greenspace, but that doesn’t address the financial realities of real estate development.

The situation underscores the challenges of bringing affordably priced residences to market at a time land values are rising quickly, in addition to construction costs. This is a consideration in the housing program announced this week by Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottom – given the reality of rising land prices in locations that are served by transit and close to a grocery store, what measures can offset the land costs in order to enable the private sector to deliver a home that’s affordable to potential occupants who don’t have incomes higher than most other city residents.

Bottoms last year chose not to sign innovative legislation approved by the Atlanta City Council to jumpstart development of lower-priced homes in this area.

The legislation entered the city code without the mayor’s signature, according to a copy of the paper.

Carey Park, boarded house

Carey Park is dotted with houses that are boarded, signs posted by real estate speculators, and the city’s rezoning notice. File/Credit: David Pendered

Atlanta Councilmember Dustin Hillis led the effort to change the city’s zoning code so that smaller lots could be developed in Carey Park. Hillis and the council agreed to rezone Carey Park consistent with its historic development pattern, which was conducive to development of smaller homes on smaller lots. The legislation noted:

  • “[S]everal privately-supported planning studies of Carey Park, including the areas around Carey Park, have extensively reviewed the enormous possibilities for more active redevelopment in this vicinity consistent with identified policies in the City’s Comprehensive Development Plan, and have analyzed the possibility of developing a master planned area incorporating new commercial and institutional redevelopment, preservation of important existing residential communities such as Carey Park, incorporation of meaningful affordable housing opportunities to help revitalize the area without displacement of longtime residents, and improved public infrastructure support….”

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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