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This new tax district could spur redevelopment. But some Gainesville school board members have concerns
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Gainesville City Manager Bryan Lackey explains to the Gainesville City Schools Board of Education how a tax allocation district for the west side of the city will work to spur redevelopment. Some board members expressed concerns about how redevelopment might impact student enrollment and housing availability for low-income families.

Gainesville’s school board members brought up several concerns about a new tax allocation district for the west side of the city during a Dec. 3 meeting.

The Gainesville City Council recently approved a new tax allocation district for the west side of the city, with the stated goal of spurring redevelopment of older retail and residential centers.  The impact the 344-acre TAD — wherein increments in property taxes resulting from new growth are reinvested in properties —  would have on school enrollment, traffic, school tax revenue and housing for low-income families were among the priorities mentioned at the Board of Education meeting.

Though acknowledging that redevelopment can be beneficial in certain places at certain times, board member Willie Mitchell said he’s also seen its negative side.

For example, Mitchell said, the redevelopment of the public housing complex on Atlanta Street into a mixed-income property now known as Walton Summit plummeted enrollment at nearby Fair Street, an elementary school primarily serving minority students from lower-income families.

That’s because even with vouchers to move into another subsidized unit, Gainesville’s affordable housing shortage left many families relocating out of the city, county or, in some cases, becoming homeless.

Mitchell said Gainesville City Schools saw about an additional 100 children report being homeless after the closing of the Atlanta Street complex.

“How can we tell them progress is being made?” Mitchell asked.

“That’s something we need to be mindful of,” City Manager Bryan Lackey said.

Board member Heather Ramsey, meanwhile, questioned how much residential area is included in the TAD and how this might grow enrollment at a pace with which the school system might struggle to keep up.

Lackey said city officials are focused on projects that renovate dilapidated shopping centers rather than residential areas.

“Everything has been shoe-horned into Dawsonville Highway,” Lackey said of development in the city.

Opportunity abounds on the west side, though.

For example, a mostly vacant shopping center off Shallowford Road is primed for redevelopment, Lackey said.

The Westside TAD includes 170 parcels, or about 3 percent of the city’s tax digest, such as Lakeshore Mall, stretches along Browns Bridge Road, Atlanta Highway and Pearl Nix Parkway.

The TAD funding is seen as a way to incentivize local business and industry to help redevelop aging shopping centers and multi-family complexes.

Proponents say the project will have a “halo effect” by raising property values in an area.

Lackey acknowledged that an economic recession could scuttle a TAD’s intentions.

The city has one other TAD covering the midtown area and including the Gainesville square.

After establishing a baseline of property taxes owed, any increments resulting from an increase in property value is pumped into the TAD account and reinvested in improvements.

According to the city’s website, “In simple terms, the increased property taxes that would be generated by a development’s improvements are temporarily used to fund those improvements. Once the improvements are paid for, a development’s taxes are then distributed traditionally.”

That city has helped fund several projects this way, including the expansion of the Main Street parking deck, Carroll Daniel Construction’s new headquarters and the upcoming Parkside on the Square development.

The establishment of the Westside TAD dissolved the city’s previous Lakeshore Mall TAD, although the mall is included in the new district.

The TAD base value will have to be certified by the Hall County Tax Assessor’s Office and the Georgia Department of Revenue.

The TAD committee is made up of city management, the mayor, city planners, school officials, Hall County commissioners and administrators, a representative from the Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce and two at-large members.

But the city pays the Bleakly Advisory Group, based in Atlanta, to provide an independent analysis of projects seeking tax subsidies to ensure the requests meet established guidelines.

Board member Andy Stewart asked Lackey if this meant that the TAD committee was “beholden” to the firm’s recommendations and advice.

“None at all, actually,” Lackey said. “I don’t want to say it’s lip-service … what they do.”

The Bleakly Advisory Group, for example, was hired to prepare and submit the proposal for Parkside on the Square, which received public investment to offset the $20 million construction cost of the five-story retail and condominium development downtown.

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