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Fulton board OK’s developer property tax break a day after Atlanta asks them not to

A sketch of Crescent Communities' proposed development at 1330 Fairmont Ave. in Blandtown (Special: slide provided to DAFC) A sketch of Crescent Communities' proposed development at 1330 Fairmont Ave. in Blandtown (Special: slide provided to DAFC)

By Maggie Lee

On Monday, Atlanta City Council resolved that Fulton County’s development authority needs to stop granting property tax breaks to developers working in the city.

The next day, the Fulton board did just what provokes Atlanta the most: it signaled support for a property tax break worth $3.4 million over 10 years for a planned BeltLine-area apartment in a part of Blandtown with a hot real estate market.

The abatement needs one more vote to become official, but the board of the Development Authority of Fulton County rarely votes anything down once it gets to the full board.

The developer, Crescent Communities, told the board that the Fairmont Ave. site where it plans a 340-unit apartment is sloped and polluted.

“Unfortunately those limitations have had costs that are extraordinary in our business, and would make this site undevelopable in today’s market,” Kyle Brock, managing director of Crescent Communities told the Fulton board members.

Brock and fellow company representatives took some pointed questions from some board members, like why not build elsewhere? Or why not make up the higher cost by charging higher rents?

Brock said there are not really other building opportunities like this in the neighborhood, and that it’s unclear when the BeltLine might get done up in northwest Atlanta.

(In other parts of town, of course, BeltLine proximity drives up rents.)

At-large Atlanta City Councilman Matt Westmoreland wrote the city resolution that asks Fulton’s Development board to stop granting property tax breaks in the city. He sees the Fulton board’s actions as counter to Atlanta’s own development and equity philosophy.

“Tax abatements in thriving areas like the new one approved just today discourage development in communities that need it the most and further burden Atlanta homeowners,” Westmoreland said after watching the DAFC meeting online.

He added that it’s “unfortunate that the board has rejected the unanimous request of Atlanta’s elected representatives.”

DAFC responded via email that Westmoreland’s resolution doesn’t tell the whole story of the agency’s work or benefits provided to the city.

By DAFC’s calculation, those benefits include some additional $347 million in property taxes for the county’s jurisdictions, just counting the buildings the agency has given abatements to since January 2019. (That’s compared to the property taxes paid on what have often been empty or underused lots.)

Previously, DAFC Executive Director Al Nash has written that it’s unclear to him how Atlanta’s own development authority is in a better position to handle what DAFC does.

DAFC board member Tom Tidwell voted against the Crescent tax abatement, putting him on the losing side of the 6-2 vote. But he sounded a note of skepticism about Atlanta too.

“Trying to get the development authority out of Atlanta to me seems like a waste of political capital,” Tidwell said, adding that he thinks every project DAFC approved for benefits in recent memory likely would have been approved by Invest Atlanta, the city’s own development authority.

Invest Atlanta does have its own history of abatements for big companies and BeltLine developments.

But Invest Atlanta has tapped the brakes on incentives for developers in fancy neighborhoods since late last year, coincident with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ One Atlanta policies emphasizing equity.

In June 2019, Invest Atlanta also asked DAFC to stop granting property tax abatements.

As for “political capital,” it is true that neither the mayor nor Atlanta City Council nor Invest Atlanta has any authority over the Development Authority of Fulton County. DAFC’s board members are selected by Fulton County commissioners, and only the Georgia state Legislature could change its boundaries.

SaportaReport has been tracking the abatements granted by both Fulton’s and Atlanta’s development agencies since January 2019.  See if there’s a property tax break for your building.

Sean Keenan contributed reporting

This article has been updated with DAFC comment that arrived after publication.

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Maggie Lee

Maggie Lee is a freelance reporter who's been covering Georgia and metro Atlanta government and politics since 2008.

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