The Development Authority of Cobb County will appear before Senior Judge Michael Stoddard at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday in Cobb Superior Court.
Riverwalk, a mega-development to include 236 rentable condos, 14 three-story townhome apartments and a 10-story office tower, is set to receive property tax breaks from the Development Authority.
The project didn’t meet the county’s requirements of creating 25 jobs and contributing $500,000 to the tax digest, but the Development Authority is moving ahead anyway with a 10-year tax-incentives deal. It has the authority to act on their own when offering tax abatements.
Wealthy Atlanta real estate mogul John Williams is financially backing the project.
To allow a waiver of some property taxes over a 10-year period, the Development Authority plans to float two bond deals. After the bonds are sold to investors, the developers would make lease payments to the Development Authority in lieu of taxes and the authority would use that lease revenue to pay off the bond debt within a decade. The developers would pay property taxes only on 10 percent of the property’s value each year until the bonds are paid off and the developer assumes full ownership of the property after 12 years.
But before it can legally issue those bonds, the Development Authority must first have them validated by a judge.
“The theory is, if you’re going to spend public money, there ought to be public input,” said Marietta attorney Tom Cauthorn, a former state representative and Cobb Superior Court judge.
The two parcels that make up the 7 acres of undeveloped land are valued at about $6.1 million for tax purposes, according to the Cobb County Tax Commissioner’s website. That raw land generated $46,433 for the Cobb School District in 2013 and $26,803 for the county.
But if developed into a $100 million development without a tax abatement, the site would pump more than 15 times that amount into county coffers, with $436,400 generated for the county and another $756,000 for Cobb schools, according to estimates provided by the county finance office.
How to speak up
The bond validation hearing allows the public an opportunity to voice opposition.
Though a judge could choose to consider oral opposition at a hearing, Cauthorn said, the best way to ensure that your voice gets heard is to file a written objection.
“If someone objects, then they need to make their objection known to the court,” Cauthorn said.
Tom Browning, a Marietta attorney and chairman of the Downtown Marietta Development Authority, said he can only recall one area validation hearing that had opposition which involved a controversial airport expansion in Paulding County.
Browning also suggests carefully considering the legal basis for an objection.
“They just can’t come up and say I don’t think this should be validated,” Browning said.
Ronda Cochran, administrative assistant to Stoddard, said no objections have been filed yet, but if critics show up in court on Tuesday, Stoddard may opt to delay action and allow time for a hearing.
“To our knowledge no one has filed a response,” Cochran said. “We’re just hearing rumors that people might show up an oppose it.”
What a judge might consider
Cauthorn says a judge presiding over a bond validation considers two main issues: Does the Development Authority have the power to issue bonds, and did actions leading up to the validation follow state law?
Two laws govern the Development Authority. One pertains to development authorities statewide and the second allowed for the formation of Cobb’s authority.
“It has only those powers that are delegated to it by the General Assembly in the legislation that created it or in the legislation as amended later on,” Cauthorn said.
A judge will also look at “sort of a check list” to ensure that all procedures were followed correctly, such as properly advertising the meeting where a bond was approved under the Georgia Open Meetings law, whether a vote by the authority’s board took place in an open session with a quorum present.
If you go ...
* Who: Cobb Superior Court Senior Judge Michael Stoddard
* What: Bond validation for Development Authority of Cobb County bonds
* Where: Cobb Superior Court, 70 Haynes St., Marietta
* When: 9 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17
* Why: To issue bonds for a $103 million development allowing for property tax breaks