Developer: DeKalb school board should allow TAD presentation

The developer of a multimillion-dollar mixed-use development at the shuttered General Motors plant site in Doraville sidestepped DeKalb school district officials’ request for answers about a project they’re being pressured to help fund.

Instead, in a response to a letter from the school board’s attorney filled with questions, Integral Group CEO Egbert Perry requested a chance to present plans on the development to the entire board, either during a public meeting or public hearing. Some school district officials already have met with developers and city officials from Doraville who support the project.

The DeKalb County School board typically does not meet with vendors, but hears presentations about possible purchases or spending by staffers who have done much of the due diligence for the board.

“The information provided to members of the district in those meetings has been repeatedly misconstrued, misrepresented or ignored by the district, both publicly and privately,” Perry said in a letter The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained through an open-records request. “Integral … (has) requested, on multiple occasions, the opportunity to make a formal, public presentation to the district, in which virtually all of the questions you asked in your letter would be answered.”

The project, called Assembly, is projected to bring thousands of jobs and jump-start lagging development in DeKalb. Development in Doraville hasn’t kept pace with other areas along I-285 such as Dunwoody and Sandy Springs and Cumberland in Cobb County. When GM’s plant closed in 2008, it wiped out thousands of jobs and hit Doraville’s tax base hard.

A tax-allocation district is being sought for infrastructure improvements to connect the site to the rest of Doraville, including nearby I-85, I-285 and a neighboring MARTA station.

Last month, the school district sent a letter to Perry asking questions after several informational sessions on tax-allocation districts, which are areas where property tax collections are frozen while the area is developed. Future increases in property tax values and collections, such as school taxes, do not go to government coffers for a period of years, but are used to repay bonds for infrastructure improvements for the development, such as streets and sewer. After a number of years, the local governments return to collecting the new, and theoretically higher, tax revenue.

Among the questions were whether an analysis of funding redevelopment without the school district’s participation was explored, the cost schedule for infrastructure improvements and how progress would be tracked.

In a response to Perry’s letter, school board attorney Nina Gupta said the lack of answers in Perry’s reply to district questions was “disappointing, at best.”

A majority of school board members oppose the district's participation, concerned about how it will affect collections for schools. But that could change, pending further discussions and answers to questions they posed to the developer. Other local governments — including Decatur, which approved a resolution this week urging DeKalb schools' participation — support the plan, as well as local business interests. The school board's participation is worth 56 percent of the total tax revenue the TAD would generate.

Perry has said his firm would decide by June whether to continue with its ambitious vision of a massive mixed-use development of houses and businesses or scrap it.