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Lanier Islands Parkway district sinks

Move to create new community improvement district has stalled

POSTED: August 10, 2014 2:32 a.m.

One year after gathering momentum, a push to create a self-taxing district along Ga. 347/Lanier Islands Parkway in South Hall County has fizzled, with once-interested parties looking elsewhere for improvements along the busy strip.

Mike Williams, CEO at Lake Lanier Islands resort in South Hall, said he’s “very disappointed” at the way things have turned out.

“I think there are things that no city government would have funded that would have made our area stand out among other parts of Hall and Gwinnett counties,” he said.

Resolutions approving the community improvement district cleared the Hall County Board of Commissioners and Flowery Branch City Council in spring 2013. The last government needed to move the concept toward reality was Buford Board of Commissioners, where the issue hit a dead end.

“There was no support for how it was structured,” said Buford commission Chairman Phillip Beard in an interview last week. “It came down to whether we wanted to impose a tax on our citizens and (that) we maintain our rights of way down here more than anybody else does in the whole area.”

The CID, by state law, is empowered to sell bonds to build roads and other infrastructure “and get into a bunch more business than we were willing to participate in,” he said.

Beard added that Buford levies a tax only to support it schools, so the 5-mill tax proposed under the CID “would have been a new tax on our Hall County residents that we don’t charge anybody else.”

The movement took off strong a few years ago as supporters developed a website and brochure pushing the concept, which has been developed in other areas of the state, including Braselton.

“Be the change in your community,” the brochure announced. “We are joining forces to achieve our community’s highest potential. We’re cutting out the middle man and the bureaucracy.”

“We would do the stuff that the DOT won’t fund — for example, streetlights, signage and landscaping,” Williams said in a 2012 interview.

Among the Lanier CID’s plans were “major enhancements” to the Exit 8 bridge over Interstate 985, landscaping and adding “significant decorative lighting and street signage along the parkway,” according to its website.

Getting support from businesses involved “a lot of door-to-door (visits), phone calls, meetings,” said Mack Burgess, who directed the effort, in 2013. “We’ve been pounding the pavement, trying to build support.”

An organization set up to create the district was able to collect 87 signatures on properties with a total value of $138.2 million.

To create the district, organizers had to get the agreement of 50 percent, plus one, of the commercial and industrial property owners in the proposed district. Plus, those property owners had to make up at least 75 percent of the district’s total property value.

The district, which was to run roughly between Lake Lanier Islands and east of Hog Mountain Road, also ran afoul of residents on Ga. 347/Friendship Road.

“Our opposition began when the (Hall County) commissioners could not answer our questions about the CID after putting it on the consent agenda,” said Pam Puckett in a recent email.

“Another concern was that 574 residential properties were included in the CID as exempt members without their knowledge.”

The plan was to impose the tax only on commercial and industrial property owners in the district. At 5 mills, 1 mill is equal to $1 for each $1,000 in assessed property values, with property assessed at 40 percent in Hall County.

Early on, Burgess said the goal was “to get a CID that generates enough revenue to be eligible for the big grants.”

And he was optimistic in the push.

“Our goal will be to provide a whole new vitality to the corridor, hopefully making some great and much-needed improvements.” he said at one point.

Speaking last week, Burgess said he believes it’s “unfortunate that the city of Buford wasn’t able to capitalize on such an incredible opportunity.

“Anyone who has spent any time studying the impacts of other metro Atlanta CIDs on their communities can see what blatant and irrefutable advantages they provide.”

Still, “intergovernmental politics is terribly complicated, and I’m sure (Buford) had the best interests of its citizens in mind.”

When asked if he was hopeful Buford might revisit the CID, Williams said, “I’m not putting any energy in it. ‘Hopeful’ is a bit strong, I think.”

Instead, he’s hoping improvements planned on Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway from Sawnee Avenue in Buford to Ga. 347 in Hall “will do some of the stuff we were wanting to do.”

The project, which calls for widening the 1.65-mile stretch to four lanes divided with sidewalks, is now in right-of-way acquisition, an effort that’s estimated to costs $11.6 million, said Teri Pope, Georgia Department of Transportation district spokeswoman.

Construction is scheduled for fiscal 2016 at an estimated cost of $8.4 million.

A major part of the CID would have been Ga. 347 as it runs through a heavily commercial district between McEver Road and I-985, where Ga. 347 is being widened to four lanes. That work is set for completion Nov. 30.


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