By John Schaffner
Dist. 2 DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader declared “effectively dead” the proposed 20-year, $52 million tax abatement incentive plan for Town Brookhaven while he addressed the July 14 meeting of the Brookhaven Community Connection (BCC).
Rader said he thought the Sembler Co.’s proposed incentive plan for the 54-acre mixed-use Town Brookhaven development, on Peachtree Road near Oglethorpe University, “ended up being more controversial than it needed to be primarily because our Development Authority did not have any framework for analyzing that project and therefore couldn’t make a decision based on its merits.”
Speaking to a packed room of BCC members and guests at the Hudson Grille in Brookhaven Station, Rader said: “In economic development terms, incentives are a fact of life when it comes to bringing in an NCR or other national firm that might go to another city, bringing new jobs to metro Atlanta and specifically to our community. Those are areas where incentives are reasonably used and we have to do that to compete.
“However, retail is a different animal. It depends on the local market. It depends on the people that live in those neighborhoods. I think that they should be breaking ground very soon on the rest of their project to the degree that the market will support it.”
Over time, Rader said, “I think we are going to see that fully redeveloped, because that is an attractive place for people to be.”
Rader said he and others on the commission would like to see more office and more basic industry types of things at Town Brookhaven.
“If we could put a headquarters operation there, that might change the landscape as it relates to incentives,” Rader said. “But until we can get something tangible in that way, we’re looking to keep a level playing field for all the retailers and property owners in the district. If we can’t give it to everybody, we ought not try to pick winners and losers.”
Declaring that Brookhaven is a great neighborhood with a substantial economic base, Rader said: “Any developer will develop the stores they believe can compete for that market. No amount of incentive is going to change the ability to absorb that retail space.”
He indicated he has begun working to get the commission to go on record opposing incentives for retail developments. “We basically came to the conclusion that this was not appropriate and wanted to have the Development Authority know that,” he said.
Rader said the county’s Economic Development Department is “supposed to be working on a comprehensive policy as it relates to incentives and an overall economic development policy because right now we really can’t articulate one.”
Rader said the county does not have targeted goals in the way the state or perhaps some other more successful jurisdictions have.
“It’s very important because, over the past decade or so, DeKalb has lost jobs, and in many cases they are the basic industry jobs, the manufacturers or distributors or other types of activities that form a basis for a retail economy,” he said.
“We are still a very attractive place for people to live,” Rader said. “But that is not enough if we are going to be able to keep your taxes where you need them to be and if we are going to be able to provide the opportunities for people to live, work and play in our community.
“We have got to generate economic growth. There is great opportunity to do that. It’s just that we don’t have a message that we are telling people at this point.”