An Atlanta legislator trying to create a tax district to speed BeltLine construction wanted to include an affordable housing mandate in the bill, but now says she was unable to do so. Atlanta BeltLine, Inc. and a BeltLine developer say enough affordable housing units will be built regardless and the tax district would not cause an increase in rent.

The bill that would create a tax district to fund BeltLine construction was passed by the state House of Representatives in late February and is awaiting a vote by the Senate. The concept is similar to community improvement districts, where businesses voluntarily tax themselves to pay for improvements, but would include commercial residential developments.

Rep. Pat Gardner, the only Atlanta representative sponsoring the legislation, House Bill 642, said the concept’s main problem is that it could pass on extra taxes to residents in an area already struggling with a lack of affordable housing, but she couldn’t find a way to put an affordable housing mandate in the bill.

State Rep. Pat Gardner.

“I tried really hard. There really isn’t a way,” she said.

It was difficult to add that type of mandate to a statewide ordinance, and was also opposed by some property owners, Gardner said.

“It belongs in a city ordinance,” she said.

The city passed an ordinance in late 2017 that requires developers building in the BeltLine Overlay District, which spans the entire length of the planned BeltLine path and extends a half-mile in each direction from the path, to set aside 10 to 15 percent of units for affordable housing.

“We are hopeful it will work,” Gardner said of that ordinance.

The BeltLine is a planned 22-mile loop of multiuse trails, parks and public transit that would eventually run through south Buckhead and the Lindbergh area. Two major segments of the trail and other smaller pieces have been built, but it is not moving quickly enough for some developers who want to help speed up its progress.

“The interest comes from property owners around the BeltLine who want to see faster construction of the trail,” Jill Johnson, the BeltLine’s director of government affairs, said.

Philip Tague, the president of AMLI Residential, is on the Atlanta BeltLine Inc.’s steering committee to create the SID. He said he feels like developers and citizens need to step up to help build the BeltLine.

Five of AMLI’s eight metro Atlanta properties would be included in the SID. Two of those properties, AMLI Lindbergh and AMLI Piedmont Heights are in Buckhead in the Lindbergh area, he said.

Without an SID, he believes his developments are benefitting from the BeltLine without contributing to it.

“We view the BeltLine as a visionary project that really needs the assistance of the broader community and warrants this sort of support,” Tague said. ”It makes us feel like we’re just free riders.”

The legislation has also been discussed as a way to fund the park over Ga. 400, although officials behind that project say special taxes or raising taxes is not needed and is not currently being pursued as a way to fund the project.

The AMLI Piedmont Heights development in Buckhead would be included in the proposed special tax district that would contribute to BeltLine construction. (Google Earth)

Johnson said that because of the city’s affordable housing ordinance, the SID could help bring more affordable housing to the BeltLine. The SID would allow the BeltLine to be built quicker, which would bring more developments that have to include affordable housing, she said.

“By spurring construction of next segments, you will also spur construction of new housing developments,” she said.

Tague acknowledged that the BeltLine has fallen short of the building enough affordable housing, and said he is in support of the city’s ordinance and other measures that could be used to bring more affordable units.

“We are in support of using big government to force more affordable housing,” he said.

But he said he doubts the SID would cause a significant increase of rent for properties around the BeltLine. Property owners charge the highest rent they believe people will pay, and paying additional taxes won’t likely contribute to raising rent, he said.

“It’s not going to play much of a role,” he said.

Financial studies done by the steering committee have shown that the properties who participate in the SID could be taxed at 3.5 mils and would bring in around $100 million, Johnson said.

The SID would automatically terminate in 30 years or after the entire BeltLine is fully funded, according to the ordinance.

The district area would span a half mile in either direction of the BeltLine. It would have to be approved by at least 51 percent of the property owners or of the properties owning at least 75 percent of the property value in the district, according to the legislation.

Tague has been lobbying other apartment owners to be supportive of the legislation and join the SID if it passes. But he said if it was passed today, he doesn’t believe enough properties would decide to join. Most of the major property owners are on board, but smaller property owners are not supportive, he said.

One challenge is convincing owners of properties that are located on the parts of the BeltLine that have already been built and are already benefiting from the trail, Tague said.

He also expects the SID to be challenged legally and for property owners to sue if the legislation passes.

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