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Few attend hearing about Flowery Branch tax allocation district
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Eight people attended a public hearing Thursday evening in Flowery Branch to offer input on the city’s plans for the voter-approved tax allocation district.

The hearing was one of two scheduled. The next will take place at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday at Flowery Branch City Hall. The City Council will vote on the specifics of the TAD plan at a public meeting at 9:30 a.m. Dec. 5.

The City Council must hold one hearing on the TAD plan, but Flowery Branch Planning Director James Riker said staff would like to receive as much public input on the revitalization project as possible.

Gary Mongeon, vice president of the Bleakly Advisory Group, the consulting firm advising officials on the TAD, said most of the money will be used on sewer capacity and developing the downtown historic district.

The plan is to double the city’s sewer capacity to 2 million gallons. Officials also want to develop the historic district on Main Street into a mixed-use area with residential, commercial and retail establishments.

Mongeon drafted a plan for the Flowery Branch TAD that aims to meet the goals outlined in the city’s 2025 Comprehensive Plan. He said the fair market value of property at the heart of historic Flowery Branch is priced at less than $89,000 per acre, "which is astoundingly low."

The primary goal of the TAD is to increase property values and investment opportunities in Flowery Branch.

Although some Flowery Branch residents attended the hearing to give input, many came to ask questions. They wanted to know how the district works, what projects it will fund, the possibility of private development and inclusion of additional properties.

One person asked that the Newberry Point neighborhood be included in the district so that several homes on septic tanks could get city sewer access.

"We’ll research the costs involved and how it fits in with the larger goals of the TAD, and basically present the information at the next public hearing to see if, indeed, the council wants to make those adjustments," Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said.

Mongeon said that Flowery Branch has until Dec. 5 to devise a cohesive plan for the tax allocation district, including its boundaries and project goals.

Tax allocation districts have recently been implemented as an economic tool in cities nationwide to finance redevelopment in underdeveloped or blighted areas. A tax allocation district is a designated area in which improvements are financed from the increase in the area’s tax revenues spurred by new development.

The TAD is estimated to generate $11.2 million during an approximate 25-year period to fund the redevelopment of Flowery Branch. City officials hope redevelopment attracts high quality developers to the growing South Hall city. Tax allocation districts can be in place for up to 30 years, and Mongeon encouraged the City Council to maintain a flexible time period.

Mongeon said some $123 million in future private investment could happen in the redevelopment area over the next several years.

As the TAD funds infrastructure improvements in the district, consultants expect property values in the economically stagnant areas to increase. The proposed 567-acre district includes the city’s downtown and commercial corridors along Interstate 985.

Hall County and the Hall County school board have agreed to forego the incremental change in property tax revenue resulting from anticipated rising property values. The funds generated will be pooled into a TAD fund to finance public projects that city officials hope will invite developers and jump-start the Flowery Branch economy.

And the TAD will not affect tax bills, although assessed property values are expected to rise, affecting the amount the average resident annually pays in property taxes.

"Overall, I think it’s a really excellent plan," said Doward Douwsma, a member of the Flowery Branch development authority. "I don’t think it’s going to be difficult for the people who live in town to follow what’s going on. I endorse it without reservation."