Taxing condo owners in Buckhead to pay for a planned park to be built above Ga. 400?

By David Pendered

As preparations advance for a park that’s to be built over Ga. 400 in Buckhead, indications are emerging that backers may ask the Georgia Legislature to authorize a new property tax on condo owners in Buckhead to help pay for the project – priced at $250 million and mounting.

buckhead aerial park

The proposed linear park above Ga. 400 would cover 9 acres, cost $250 million to build, and open in 2022, according to current estimates. Credit: buckhead.com

If that’s the direction backers choose, they certainly have the influence to have their opinions heard at the state Capitol.

The Buckhead CID is heading the park project. Its board of directors includes leaders of major corporations in Atlanta – Regent Partners, Cousins, The Loudermilk Companies, Selig Enterprises, Edens, Highwoods Properties, Simon Properties and JW Marriott.

Some of these companies retain one or more lobbyists at the Legislature. The Buckhead CID hasn’t had a lobbyist who identified the CID as a client since 2009, according to state records.

Whether the backers choose to act in a gubernatorial election year, if they choose this path at all, is to be determined. No relevant bill has been pre-filed in the state House. The roster of lobbyists for the 2018 legislative session has not been started.

Any legislation would seek to change the state law that funds CIDs.

Current state law allows CIDs to assess property taxes on only commercial properties and use the proceeds to fund community improvements. If condo owners in the mixed-use developments that have proliferated across the city and region were taxed at the same rate as commercial properties, CIDs could reap a windfall of revenue and expand their programs.

buckhead aerial park, 2

As plans progress for a proposed 9-acre park above Ga. 400 at Peachtree Road, speculation is emerging that backers may seek to raise property taxes on condos to pay for the park’s construction and maintenance. Credit: inhabit.com

The logic is that the apartments, or owner-occupied condos, built in mixed use developments benefit from the CID-funded improvements just as much as commercial tenants. Therefore, the condos should be taxed just like the commercial areas of the buildings.

The Buckhead CID has used its property-tax proceeds to ease traffic congestion, enhance the plantings in rights of way, and foster PATH400, the trail being built beside and beneath Ga. 400.

The Buckhead CID assesses a 3-mill property tax. A mill is a $1 tax on every $1,000 of assessed property value.

Even if the Legislature were to authorize condo owners to face higher assessments, another hurdle awaits. The Atlanta City Council, and mayor, would have to approve any extension of the Buckhead CID’s taxing power to include residential properties.

The cause of speculation over the potential taxation of condo residences involves timing. The project’s design, engineering and permitting is to begin in January 2018. Yet no funding source has been identified to build or maintain the proposed 9-acre park.

Construction costs alone are estimated at $250 million, which is up from the $190 million estimate provided in September 2016. That doesn’t provide any resources to maintain or police the planned linear park.

The norther end of the proposed park above Ga. 400 would be at the extension of Lenox Road that connects to Piedmont Road. From here, the park would link to PATH400. Credit: buckhead.com

To put the cost of maintenance and security into perspective, consider just a police presence. Atlanta didn’t assign a dedicated police unit to walk and bike the three trails and four parks along the Atlanta BeltLine until 2013, and only after the city had received a federal grant of $1.8 million, according to a statement issued by the BeltLine.

The Buckhead CID made a significant announcement Dec. 5 that suggests the rate of the park’s development will quicken.

The CID named a nine-member committee to advise a, “soon to be launched nonprofit entity that will manage the next-stage planning, fund-raising, permitting, relationship building and construction of the park.”

Committee members include corporate leaders including Keith Parker, the former head of MARTA who now leads Goodwill of North Georgia.

The design, engineering and permitting phase of the project is to begin in January 2018, according to another statement from the CID. Construction is to begin in 2020, and the park is to be open for use by 2022 and fully functional in 2023.

buckhead aerial park, map

The proposed linear park above Ga. 400 would cover 9 acres, cost $250 million to build, and open in 2022, according to current estimates. Credit: buckhead.com

The design work completed to date has been funded by the Buckhead CID.

The pending nonprofit entity cited in the announcement is similar in concept to a nonprofit created to further ideas that grew out of the Buckhead CID. Livable Buckhead was incorporated in 2010 as a nonprofit and it has worked in conjunction with, and received funding from, Buckhead CID. Livable Buckhead now oversees the PATH400 project.

The proposed linear park would be built in the airspace above Ga. 400.

One end of the park would be at the extension of Lenox Road between Peachtree and Piedmont roads. The park would pass over MARTA’s Buckhead Station. The other end of the trail would be in front of the Atlanta Financial Center, the 270-foot tall glass and aluminum wrapped building located directly above Ga. 400.

 

buckhead aerial park, locator map

The boundaries of the planned 9-acre park are Lenox Road, to the north, and Peachtree Road, to the south. Credit: mapquest.com, David Pendered

 

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.

4 replies
  1. Jim Durrett says:

    With all due respect to Mr. Pendered, who I consider a friend who covers well very important issues for Saporta Report, in this case he got it flat wrong. First, not only is the Buckhead CID not researching or pursuing funding from condominium owners for any purpose, we also have explicitly stated in public that we are NOT seeking funding from condo owners. He does use the phrases “speculation” and “indications are emerging” in his article, but it would have been nice to have heard from him as he was putting together this piece of conjecture.Report

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  2. K Riley says:

    While I agree that Atlanta needs more public greenspace, this plan seems to have two major flaws. First, building a park over a busy roadway will subject park goers to unhealthy exhaust fumes and incessant noise from the traffic below. Second, the price tag is enormous for what the taxpayers are getting. I find it hard to believe that an equivalent or even much larger parcel of land can’t be found for a significantly lower price. Not to mention the problems of maintenance and policing that the article covers. Seriously, a quarter of a billion dollars for one park?Report

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  3. R Patterson says:

    I had the good fortune to hear the designer of the proposed park over GA 400 at the Atlanta History Center describe the plan. Wow. What a world-class concept. Buckhead and Atlanta would both be tremendously lucky to have such an amenity, and to have it for generations to come. In addition to its benefits as a park, it would provide a wonderful place for Atlantans to gather, a major shortcoming in our sprawling, strip-center city. As a life-long resident, I think Buckhead so underperforms its potential as a great urban place that it is ridiculous. The challenge is not whether the park concept is world-class but whether we can cobble together the enormous amount of money required to pay for it. That is, admittedly, a huge challenge but I sincerely hope that a mix of funding sources can be pulled together.Report

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