Dunwoody City Council is moving ahead on the city’s Renaissance Project for Georgetown. While well-received within the Dunwoody community, the mechanisms of this project still are of some concern. In many ways, it points to a continuing problem of transparency and open disclosure regarding internal city processes.
The city manager had, at his disposal, new power and authority granted by passage of a referendum item in November, allowing the city to use all the powers contained in the Georgia Redevelopment Laws.
At the time, everyone said — and the city did not disagree — that the primary vehicle for redevelopment would be the Tax Allocation District. But, the city is not creating a TAD for this project. Instead, Project Renaissance includes the creation of an Urban Redevelopment Authority to provide the city with an economic development tool to finance and sell portions of the property to a private sector partner.
One feature of the authority is that the city, which is already liable for payment for the land, can reconfigure its debt, bundle in the Peachford properties and package them for sale to a developer. With the authority, the city becomes the primary controller of design and approval.
In the long run, the city still will be paying more than $5 million dollars for approximately 16 acres of land, but will “invest” another $5.5 million for the Peachford property in the hopes that a private developer will participate in the plan. As of now, two developers have come forth with plans, and only limited information regarding the identity and the scope of the work proposed has been made available.
On its face, this is very smart and creative financing by the City.
I don’t disagree that it aims toward a good end in revitalizing the Georgetown area. But I do raise the question about how open and transparent both the city manager and City Hall have been with the citizens of Dunwoody about these deals. More often than not, they’ve put a positive spin on their purchases, but have never been called to explain all the details.
The city manager let slip that the financing for the “PVC farm” property involved an agreement by the city to not change the zoning status of the property until the city completed its purchase. In truth, the “PVC farm” property could not become a park until it was completely paid for. We could ask why should the city invest another $5.5 million for the Peachford property to make it “available” for development? Isn’t an open, cleared lot already “available”?
And, why should the city extend an offer of 4.5 percent for “consideration” to the landowner to keep the parcel available for another four to six months. The property has been vacant for eight years without an offer. And even when the city packaged the deal, it only got two offers. Does Dunwoody really need to pay almost $125,000 in consideration to make available property even more “available?”
One last point, the city has agreed to purchase the least desirable portions of the property first, ostensibly to ensure acquisition of those parcels needed to tie into Brook Run. In point of fact, this benefits the property owner, not the city. If the city defaults on executing the deal, the property owner will still own the more valuable properties. These are the properties that have what little street frontage there is on these properties.
This highlights what I perceive to be an ongoing, pervasive trend by the city to engage in deal-making for the sake of deal-making, and not living up to expectations for transparent and open government.
In a recent article about leaks from the council’s executive session about the “PVC farm,” Mayor Mike Davis was quoted ““All the rumors you’ve read and heard are wrong…. Unfortunately, there’s an assumption that there’s a whole bunch going on.”
Well, Mr. Mayor, you have a chance to remedy all that by reducing the amount of information held “in private” after these deals are concluded.
Greg Crnkovich has lived in Dunwoody for more than 20 years. He is a member of the Dunwoody Homeowner’s Association, active in the local community and takes an interest in the people and events of Dunwoody.