Fulton board grants 3 big tax breaks, including $32M abatement for data center

DAFC agrees to more than $40M in tax savings for the developers
This is a rendering of a proposed data center by Edged Energy.

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

Combined ShapeCaption
This is a rendering of a proposed data center by Edged Energy.

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

A Fulton County agency approved tax breaks for three projects, including a massive data center slated for a former Westside rail yard and two Beltline residential developments.

The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) granted the three abatements during its Tuesday meeting totaling more than $40 million in tax savings for their developers. The adopted resolutions more than double the tax savings the authority committed to provide developers this year.

Development authorities are able to incentivize investment and job creation by providing property tax breaks through “bond-for-title” transactions. The DAFC earns a fee in exchange for enacting a tax break, which has prompted intense scrutiny in recent years as the authority doled out tax savings to developers in hot neighborhoods where critics contend tax breaks are not needed.

The nine-member DAFC board adopted the tax abatements for the two residential projects by wide margins, but the data center proposal — by far the most valuable at more than $32 million in tax savings — was adopted by a razor-thin 5-4 vote.

Pitched by developer Edged Energy, the project includes three warehouses to store computer equipment and is valued at more than $1.5 billion. It’s proposed for a 55-acre site at Tilford Yard, a former rail yard that was exempt from property taxes during its decades of ownership by CSX.

Jim Martin, the chairman of Neighborhood Planning Unit D, which includes the project site, urged the board to vote it down.

“We’ve had no trouble attracting new development to our area,” he said. “Development on this site is well underway, and it will obviously be developed with or without a publicly funded subsidy.”

Edged Energy did not respond to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s request for comment ahead of the meeting, but its representatives touted the project’s energy capabilities during the meeting. Data centers usually require copious amounts of electricity and water to operate, but Edged Energy said its Atlanta facility will be carbon neutral and the country’s first no-water data center.

”Edged has invested multi-millions of dollars into a patented cooling system that uses zero water,” said Mark Martyak, executive vice president of PowerSecure and partner on the project. “So this data center will actually use no water, which really does make it the most sustainable data center on the planet.”

The project’s first phase is expected to open in late 2024, and the entire data center will employ 53 full-time workers.

This is a rendering of a proposed data center by Edged Energy, which will be built in three phases.

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

State Sen. Brandon Beach, the board’s vice chair, called the proposal “a no-brainer.” DAFC Treasurer Mike Bodker said it will cost the developer more than $99 million in infrastructure and equipment to allow for carbon neutrality, which he said is more than triple the value of the inducement. Both of them, along with Chairman Marty Turpeau and members Mike Looney and Kwanza Hall, voted in favor of the abatement.

The board voted 7-2 to grant a $4.3 million tax abatement to a subsidiary of Trammell Crow Residential for a housing project along the Beltline’s Eastside trail. DAFC Secretary Kyle Lamont and member Erica Long voted against the proposal.

Trammell Crow plans to build 230 apartments and a 337-space parking deck on a 1.8-acre plot along Edgewood Avenue and Ezzard Street. The project also includes preserving two historic buildings, which received praise from a local preservationist.

“Consistently in modern development, you really see the removal or very poor inclusion of historic fabric,” David Mitchell, the executive director of the Atlanta Preservation Center, told the board. “But (Trammell Crow) is bending over backwards.”

This is a rendering of Trammell Crow Residential's proposed project for a site along Edgewood Avenue and Ezzard Street.

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

Credit: Development Authority of Fulton County

In exchange for the tax abatement, the developer said it will reserve 23 apartments for residents who make 60% of the area median income, a minimum requirement for new construction near the Beltline.

Trammell Crow did not respond to requests for comment. Justin Adams, the managing director of Trammell Crow, said his team committed to preserve the affordability in perpetuity rather than having them revert to market-rate units when the 10-year abatement expires.

The board unanimously approved Woodfield Acquisition’s request for a $3.5 million tax break as part of its mixed-use project near Murphy Crossing. The developer proposed 326 apartments, 20,000 square feet of commercial space and 1,500 square feet of co-working and community space.

A fifth of the apartments will be reserved for affordable housing, a third more than Beltline requirements. At least 5% of affordable units will be held for residents making between 30% and 50% of the area median income, while the other 15% will go to those making 80% or less of that figure.

The company did not respond to the AJC’s request for comment, but its representatives said during the meeting that the tax break was needed to make the affordable housing financially possible.

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