By John Schaffner
A citizens advisory group has determined that the leadership of Atlanta’s BeltLine redevelopment project isn’t providing the needed information for it to properly monitor the progress of the $2.8 billion effort.
Created by Atlanta City Council to keep tabs on BeltLine activity, the group contends the project’s leadership isn’t providing information early or often enough.
In fact, the project may be about to inappropriately reduce an affordable housing fund by more than $9 million, the citizen Tax Allocation District Advisory Committee (TADAC) claims.
The non-profit Atlanta BeltLine Inc. soon plans to sell up to $165 million in bonds which will be used to pay off 2008 bonds, buy land and pursue other projects. City ordinance specifies that 15 percent of all bond proceeds are to be set aside for affordable housing, but the BeltLine’s lawyers say that doesn’t apply to the $64 million needed to pay off last year’s bonds.
The citizens group disagrees, saying the law doesn’t give the BeltLine the leeway to make that call.
If the BeltLine board’s view prevails, affordable housing would get about $9.5 million less from the upcoming bond sale.
The BeltLine’s 2009 bond plan also excludes a $1 million set-aside for public art and earmarks $3.3 million for small business economic incentives — but only if it is “available.” City ordinance requires funding of both programs from BeltLine bond issues.
The BeltLine plan calls for development of parks, trails, transit and private projects along a 22-mile network of rail lines encircling the center of the city. City Council created the advisory committee to keep tabs on BeltLine activity and let the project’s leadership and City Council know if they’re doing a good job.
Committee members claim they are not getting enough information to make that evaluation.
Recently, TADAC unanimously asked the City Council to decide how much they are entitled to know.
Committee Chairman Eugene Bowens wrote in his letter to the council: “While we acknowledge improved cooperation and responsiveness from ABI in providing needed information to TADAC, the timeliness and completeness of such information continue to be a major concern. Truly effective community engagement and participation in the BeltLine will not be realized in the absence of full cooperation, transparency and the TADAC’s [i.e., the community’s] access to complete, accurate, and timely information.”
The BeltLine leadership apparently gives TADAC access to information on publicly funded projects, but nothing on plans that might be funded by foundations, non-profits or other sources. Private sources are expected to fund about $1.1 billion of the BeltLine’s projects.
According to the TADAC chairman, BeltLine informs the advisory group how it plans to spend its money but not how those decisions are made. The citizens group wants to be included to observe when and how those decisions are made.