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Flowery Branch gets a TAD busy

POSTED: March 25, 2009 10:47 p.m.

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FLOWERY BRANCH  —  The first order of business for Flowery Branch’s new tax allocation district advisory committee was lending a hand with a $15 million downtown project that has been in the works for more than two years.

The group decided Wednesday afternoon to recommend committing up to $135,000 in tax increments for demolition work already done in the Old Town Flowery Branch development led by Buford-based Hortman & Dobbs Developers.

It also endorsed future Old Town ventures eligible for TAD financing — construction of a new city street and public parking — but put the financial details in the hands of the Flowery Branch City Council.

The measures now go before the council for its OK. Three of the advisory panel’s members — Mary Jones, Pat Zalewski and Allen Bryans Sr. — are on the five-member council.

Kellin Dobbs of Hortman & Dobbs pleaded for the help as a way to give him leverage for the financing of other aspects of the project, which will feature a mixture of boutiques, eateries and homes He said that without the money, “I don’t know what we’ll do in moving forward.”

Governments can create a tax allocation district to develop or redevelop blighted areas, using property taxes from developments to pay for certain public-use projects within the district.

The hope is that sales tax revenue generated by commercial projects will far outweigh the governments’ investment in property taxes.

Flowery Branch has crafted a 567-acre district, with plans to enliven its downtown district and breathe life into vacant areas around Thurmon Tanner Parkway and Phil Niekro Boulevard.

Developments such as the new Hampton Inn & Suites, which opened in December, and the Stonebridge Village Shopping Center have helped build tax district revenues.

TAD-pursuing local governments were dealt a blow last February, when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled that school funding in a tax district — making up a huge chunk in the property tax investments — violated the state constitution’s educational purpose clause.

The Georgia legislature passed a resolution this year to hold a statewide referendum on a constitutional amendment allowing the use of school revenues for redevelopment projects.

Voters approved the referendum in November.

However, the Hall County school system, suffering huge losses in its budget because of the economic downturn, hasn’t agreed to contribute to the tax district. Struggling hard, the system laid off 100 teachers earlier this month for the 2009-10 school year.

City Manager Bill Andrew, serving as chairman of the advisory group, said he hopes the school system will jump on the bandwagon as the economy improves and as a major commercial project begins to take shape.

He cited vast property off Thurmon Tanner and Phil Niekro that could support up to 1 million square feet of retail space. He foresees that area developing in the next five years or so.

Andrew has said that before the economy tanked, the city was getting regular looks from potential developers.

The advisory committee, holding its first meeting Wednesday, tapped Andrew as its chairman and Hall County Administrator Charley Nix as its vice chairman.

The group also talked with Gary Mongeon, vice president of Sandy Springs-based Bleakly Advisory Group, about its role, as well as financing policies and procedures.



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