The bond validation hearing for an up to $13.5 million tax abatement for a Brookhaven development that drew opposition from DeKalb County has been delayed because of a potential conflict of interest.
DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey Hydrick was scheduled to hear the case of the Dresden Village project on Sept. 8. But because her law clerk lives in Brookhaven, Hydrick said, she is giving the Brookhaven Development Authority and the county, which filed a motion to intervene in the hearing, a chance to ask for a different judge.
The tax break was approved by the Brookhaven Development Authority under the codename “Project X” for the mixed-use development on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road. DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader has publicly opposed the abatement for taking tax dollars away from the county government and school system.
Developers requested the tax break because of the increased scope of the project, which includes streetscape and traffic changes, Connolly CEO Timothy “J.R.” Connolly said.
Some of the changes are intended to alleviate traffic troubles on Dresden Drive. The project is slated to remove one of the two traffic lights near each other on Dresden Drive, which city officials say creates traffic congestion. It will also extend Green Meadows Lane across Caldwell Road and to Dresden Drive.
The BDA delivers the tax abatement in the form of issuing bonds to fund the project. Before the tax break can go into effect, a court must approve, or validate, the bond issuance in a hearing. The Sept. 8 hearing was streamed on YouTube Live and Zoom, where residents could join the chat room to also voice their opinions on the abatement.
“Any decision I make has to be what the law allows me to do and is not based on homeowner interests,” Hydrick said after telling the Zoom attendees she read their messages.
The county filed a motion to intervene with the court proceedings the night before the hearing, Hydrick said.
“We think that the tax abatement schedule and scheme is flawed,” said Patrick Jaugstetter, an attorney representing the county. “It is flawed both in its creation and the manner in which the taxes are abated.”
Jaugstetter said the county is intervening in the hearing to protect its tax revenue because the abatement will divert funds from the county.
Chris Balch, a Brookhaven city attorney who also represents the BDA, said Hydrick should deny the county’s motion to intervene because state law does not permit other governing bodies to intervene in bond validation hearings, only residents.
“This is little more than a vendetta from Mr. Rader,” Balch said. “Instead of doing his job to represent half of the city of Brookhaven, he has decided he wants to attack the city of Brookhaven.”
Jaugstetter said the state law authorizes residents to intervene but does not prohibit other entities from also intervening.
Hydrick said both parties will have to file something in writing regarding the conflict of interest and whether either party would prefer a different judge before the hearing could continue.