DeKalb officials push back on $15M tax break for Brookhaven project

DeKalb County commissioners and school board members pushed back Thursday on a $15 million tax break proposed for an already controversial development in Brookhaven.

The Decide DeKalb Development Authority is considering the 10-year tax inducement for an apartment building that’s part of larger project at the site of a struggling strip mall near the intersection of North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads.

The $155 million development planned by The Related Group would also include a 140-room hotel and an office building — which are likely to be in high demand as Emory Healthcare and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta complete billion-dollar projects just down the street.

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Under the incentive plan proposed by Decide DeKalb, the developer would reserve 20% of the apartment building’s 382 units for folks making less than 80% of the metro Atlanta area’s median income.

Teachers, firefighters, police officers and other public safety personnel would also qualify for the units, even if they have slightly higher incomes.

Decide DeKalb officials said during a Thursday morning meeting that the $15 million tax break is necessary for the developer “to offset the cost of supplying the affordable housing units and public infrastructure improvements” like turn lanes and sidewalks.

They said the strip mall currently at the site brings in about $87,000 in property taxes each year. Even during the 10-year incentive period, they said, the new project would bring in nearly $14 million in tax revenue.

Several DeKalb County commissioners and school board members who attended the development authority’s meeting said that’s all fine and good — but questioned whether such an incentive is really necessary for the project to move forward.

Commissioner Jeff Rader called the area one of DeKalb’s most sought-after spots for developers. He referenced two other recent apartment projects in the area that did not seek tax abatements.

In a letter objecting to the abatement, Rader and fellow commissioner Ted Terry also said analysis conducted by the DeKalb County Community Development Department suggests it would only cost around $1.4 million to cover the costs associated with reducing rents for affordable units.

DeKalb school board chairman Vickie Turner made similar points, saying the incentives could unnecessarily deprive the district of tax revenue.

“I think all of us would like a win-win,” she said, “but the way this is structured right now and the way we understand it, the losers would be our students.”

Decide DeKalb vice chairman Kevin Gooch pushed back on that notion, but the board voted to postpone a decision on the matter for two weeks.

“If you do a development like this that increases the amount that goes to the tax rolls by five times, that’s a benefit for the student,” Gooch said. “As opposed to turning it down and then the property sits there for five years and it’s still only developing $90,000 in tax revenue.”