Fulton authority reverses course, approves Beltline project incentives

Developer aims to replace unpermitted landfill with apartments, townhomes
This is a Google Maps image of an unpermitted landfill along Avondale Avenue in southeast Atlanta, which a developer wants to turn into apartments and rental townhomes.

Credit: Google Maps

Credit: Google Maps

This is a Google Maps image of an unpermitted landfill along Avondale Avenue in southeast Atlanta, which a developer wants to turn into apartments and rental townhomes.

A Fulton County agency awarded a developer millions of dollars in incentives Tuesday to build nearly 280 rental homes on a decades-old dump near the Beltline and Zoo Atlanta, less than a year after the board deadlocked on the same project.

The Development Authority of Fulton County (DAFC) approved a $3.7 million tax abatement for Atlanta-based TPA Residential, which plans to build 215 apartments, 63 townhomes, a small commercial space and parking on the dump site. The property also used to house an old city drinking water chlorination facility.

The 8-acre site is less than a quarter-mile from the Beltline, which has attracted transformative developments across the city. The DAFC board deadlocked on a 4-4 vote whether to grant the tax break last year.

In the December meeting, members clashed over whether a local tax break was appropriate when TPA would also be reimbursed for a large portion of its environmental costs through a state brownfield program. Beltline neighborhoods are also some of the hottest in the city, and DAFC critics have said projects there don’t need government support.

But on Tuesday, nearly every board member said the dump presents a costly challenge to remediate, warranting the extra financial help.

“I feel like this is the exact type of project that we should be incentivizing because so many developers have failed in the past,” DAFC Executive Director Sarah-Elizabeth Langford said.

Jason Schwartz, a resident who has lived in the Boulevard Heights neighborhood for roughly two decades, said two developers previously tried to replace the unpermitted landfill with new construction. But they gave up over the difficulty of removing the “mystery garbage” pit, which is more than 40 feet deep in spots.

Schwartz said the project site, 1104 Avondale Ave., has been “a hazard” and “a nuisance” as long as he’s lived there.

“It’s clearly been impossible for two other commercial developers to come in and do anything with this land,” Schwartz said. “We have been sitting, waiting for anybody to do anything for at least 15 years now to remediate this land so we don’t have a brownfield putting God knows what into the earth.”

DAFC has been criticized for years as a rubberstamp that grants lucrative tax breaks for projects in well-off parts of the county.

But the authority has undergone an overhaul in the wake of reporting by The Atlanta Journal-Constitution last year that revealed a culture of loose financial oversight at the agency under former leadership.

According to documents submitted to DAFC, the landfill remediation and removal will cost about $7 million. It will cost another $1 million to connect the site to the Beltline and provide landscaping and lighting.

TPA’s apartment building will consist of 35 studios, 134 one-bedroom units, 44 two-bedroom units and two three-bedroom apartments. Of those, 43 units will be reserved for residents who make 80% of the area median income, which is $54,000 for an individual and $77,120 for a family of four.

Former Johns Creek Mayor Mike Bodker, who is on the DAFC board, called the additional tax break a “no brainer.”

“It’s a very difficult piece of property,” he said. “We ought to be lucky that we’ve got a developer that will take on this challenge of this environmental disaster and develop this and make it a safe area for the residents that are there.”

The board voted 7-1 on Tuesday to grant the tax abatement, with Tom Tidwell being the only dissenting vote.

Tidwell didn’t elaborate, but he said in December that real estate near the Beltline is desirable enough that it will get developed by someone whether or not TPA moved forward with its project.