Friday, September 9, 2016

How do developers get tax abatements in Dunwoody? Dunwoody Homeowners Association Meeting this Sunday, September 11

Sunday, September 11  7:30 PM
North DeKalb Cultural Center, Room 4

This Sunday Dunwoody's Economic Development Director Mike Starling will be visiting to talk about development tax abatements - who gets them, what are the criteria, and what is the economic impact on Dunwoody and its full-time residents and homeowners.

Interest in tax abatements perked up when Transwestern announced a new speculative office tower project near Perimeter Mall - one of the most sought-after regions in the area for development.  Then went to the development authority in Dunwoody to request a tax abatement to "encourage" them to complete the project.  Maybe Mike can make sense out of the bad smell following that around.

Elsewhere on the agenda - GID Urban Development, the developers of the long-awaited "High Street" "multi-use" development with residential towers, shops, etc, near the State Farm complex will be presenting their current plans for the site.

To recap:

1)  This project was approved via SLUP by DeKalb County in 2007, the year before Dunwoody incorporated as a city.
2)  This project is arguably one of the reasons Dunwoody incorporated - to put the brakes on large-scale, high density developments exactly like this.
3)  The approval of the SLUP cannot be reversed without a long, painful, expensive legal fight and success is a long way from certain.
4)  The only influence on the developers was the DHA who, while they could not stop project approval (we are talking about DeKalb County under Vernon Jones, remember)  could at least negotiate the ratio of owner-occupied to rental units.  This agreement happened before my DHA tenure so I hope those involved will include their recollections in person.
5)  The economic downturn in 2008-2009 stalled the project.  This development and its approvals are neither new nor recent.  They were merely put on hold for just shy of 10 years until economic conditions became favorable to the owners.

Bring your questions and your comments - this will be one of the only chances to address them in person to the development/legal team.  Once you've put together your opinion based on the latest info, let your elected officials know what you want them to do with it.

Both of these speakers will be streamed live on Facebook.  Here's the profile:
Not everything on that is public but these videos will be viewable (and more importantly, shareable) by everyone.

After the public meeting, the voting board will discuss some text modifications that clarifies the DHA position on city appointed board members who also serve on the voting board of the DHA.

Some background:
In July of 2008, before the vote for city incorporporation, the DHA modified its bylaws so that anyone who was elected to office (assuming the incorporation vote was successful) from the DHA's voting board would be moved to an "ex officio" status.  DHA did this independently, without any pressure from any government.  So any elected officials on city council today who were previously on the DHA's voting board did not resign due to some moral quandry or "icky feelings".  The decision was made for them, years ago, prior to their election.

Currently, members who are both DHA voting members and city board members are expected to abstain from any vote, at the least.  The bylaws will be clarified that these members will physically leave the room at the end of the public portions of meetings where issues coming before them in their official capacity will get a DHA endorsement vote.  Those affected will be documented in the minutes.

More background:
Here's a little insight into voting board-only sessions:  the entire group does not sit around agreeing with each other.  There is almost always a minority report and some votes are very close.  That means - people learn to agree to disagree and move on to the next day in our lives.  No one gives up their opinions regardless of the majority.

Bottom line, city board members who are DHA members have never been forced to give the DHA's majority opinion in their role on a city board.  There is all kinds of communication between board members because they're all interested in what happens to their community.  But  the DHA does not dictate any members' vote in an official capacity.  As for the two dozen other HOAs plus myriad civic groups (like the Womens' Club and the Preservation Trust, for example) - you'll have to ask them directly.

Some people need their minds put at ease on that question.  So the bylaws will clarify that DHA majority opinions do not dictate how board members vote.

That should be the final blow that puts this dumpster fire of a decision to rest once and for all.  Everyone is tired of the fallout, it shouldn't have happened in the first place, and I hope no one is silly enough to resurrect it in the future.

“Most zoning actions ultimately result in some kind of compromise. And what any planning professor would say is, the more people get together and talk, and have opportunities to talk and discuss the issues, the greater the likelihood there will be a compromise. And nobody gets sued. And really, you want to encourage developers and neighborhoods to meet. Having a Dunwoody Homeowners Association is not a unique situation. There are neighborhood associations all over the metro area. And they serve a very positive function of helping to bring the parties together and helping to reach compromises.

The thought that there’s some “magical thing” that happens here at the meetings that must be stopped … is very illogical.”
--Seth Weissman in presentation to Dunwoody Homeowners Association,, August 2015