Georgia voters approve important smart growth funding amendment
Those of us who, like me, are big fans of showcase smart growth projects in Georgia such as Atlantic Station and the Atlanta BeltLine have been holding our breath over a constitutional amendment that was before Georgia voters this week. Fortunately for community development, it looks like the amendment passed, albeit by a slim margin.
Basically, Georgia's "amendment 2" restores a funding mechanism that had allowed public school districts (along with municipalities) to invest in community revitalization projects that they believe will pay off in the long run. Called "tax allocation districts," the procedure has been used for most of a decade and was slated to provide some $1.7 billion to the inner-city BeltLine proposed transit corridor (called at one point by yours truly "the country's best smart growth project"), but was struck down in February by the state's supreme court. (All ten active TADs in Atlanta are shown in the map above; the BeltLine district is in green.)
The idea behind TADs is that, although by their nature areas slated for redevelopment are not now generating much if anything in tax revenues for schools (or other civic functions, for that matter), they will be able to produce significant revenues after redevelopment has taken place. As they do, the new revenues are "allocated" to finance improvements in the district. In the case of redevelopment in the BeltLine, the tax base within the TAD is predicted to increase by $20 billion between 2005, when the project was launched, and 2030, when the TAD expires.
As I write (on Wednesday), Heather Vogell reports in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that, with 96 percent of the precincts reporting, the vote on Amendment 2 was 1,833,819 in favor and 1,721,700 against, or 51.6 percent to 48.4 percent.
The 6500-acre BeltLine TAD has received overwhelming support from the community and votes of approval by the Atlanta City Council, the Atlanta Public School Board, and the Fulton County Commission. The majority of the BeltLine TAD funds will be used to invest in land acquisition, multi-use trails, green space, transit, transportation improvements, affordable workforce housing, and school facilities. Some BeltLine TAD funds will be used for developer infrastructure, primarily for environmental brownfield cleanup, or to jump-start development in underdeveloped areas.
TAD financing was also used to help fund infrastructure and cleanup for Atlantic Station (below), a large mixed-use development also in Atlanta and widely heralded as one of the country's most successful brownfield conversion efforts. Residents of the walkable, well-located Atlantic Station have been found to drive only one-fourth as much as the Atlanta regional average.
As of late last year, there were 27 designated TADs in the state of Georgia as a whole, with that many more contemplated by planners. A thorough study of their performance has found "substantial positive impacts on their host communities" and rising tax revenues from the designated districts.