Smyrna extends tax break for Belmont Hills
by Nikki Wiley
December 17, 2013 12:13 AM | 2435 views | 0 0 comments | 9 9 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Smyrna councilwoman Teri Anulewicz stands in front of the site of the former Belmont Hills Shopping Center near the intersection of Windy Hill and Atlanta roads on Monday night prior to a City Council vote to extend a tax allocation district subsidy for the development of the vacant lot.
Smyrna councilwoman Teri Anulewicz stands in front of the site of the former Belmont Hills Shopping Center near the intersection of Windy Hill and Atlanta roads on Monday night prior to a City Council vote to extend a tax allocation district subsidy for the development of the vacant lot.
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SMYRNA — A vacant lot that once featured Cobb’s premier shopping district could finally be getting new life after sitting stagnant since at least 2008, a developer said Monday.

The Smyrna City Council voted unanimously Monday night to extend a tax allocation district subsidy for the development of Belmont Hills, once a 1950s-era shopping center at the corner of Atlanta and Windy Hill roads that at one time attracted shoppers from across the metro area.

The 48-acre site is set to feature 274 luxury residential units and 164 senior units along with commercial space facing Atlanta and Windy Hill roads. Restaurants, retail and professional offices are planned.

The 338 townhomes and flats, along with eight single-family homes once planned for the site, are not mentioned in the city’s official description.

“Obviously, the scope of the project has changed, and that’s for a couple of reasons. One is economics 101,” said Councilwoman Teri Anulewicz, who represents the area, pointing to the Great Recession as the reason for the development’s stall.

She says most residents in her ward are happy to see things moving forward and “people are tired of seeing holes in the ground.”

Amendment allows longer completion target

Atlanta-based Halpern Enterprises asked the city to amend the TAD agreement to reflect changes to the project, which includes the sale of a 20-acre site that is now Smyrna Elementary.

The amendment also extends the completion date from 2016 to 2021.

The Cobb Board of Commissioners also has to sign off on the TAD amendment and will consider the issue on Thursday.

In 2008, the project was approved by the city and county for the TAD, which is an incentive for developers to build in blighted areas to increase property values.

TAD subsidies involve freezing the tax value of the property. Taxes at the existing value continue to go to local jurisdictions, but any new taxes generated by a higher property value go to pay off development bonds instead of to the local governments.

School district taxes are not used for this TAD.

Developer optimistic project moving along

Jack Halpern, chairman of Halpern Enterprises, said the sale of property to the Cobb School District has diminished the company’s ability to see a return on its investment. That’s because the sale of the property removed it from the tax rolls that fund the TAD.

“We have to spend the money up front ourselves and we only get reimbursed if property values go up. … The risk is on us,” Halpern told City Council on Monday. “There’s no obligation on the part of the city.”

Mayor Max Bacon has said the TAD subsidy is needed for Halpern to get his money back.

“The reality is that you sold a very rich piece of property, tax rich piece of property, to the schools,” Bacon said during Monday’s meeting.

Still, Halpern thinks things are moving forward. A portion of the property is under contract to become owner-occupied housing.

“We’re optimistic that 2014 will be the year that we will see vertical construction coming up from the site,” Halpern said.

Halpern also said he hopes the retail and commercial portions of the project will follow soon after construction is completed on housing.

“The reality is that the restaurants and retailers don’t want to be sitting out there by themselves, so the fact that we will shortly have people living on the property and activity on the site will enable us to get started and complete the restaurant and retail portion of the development in the near future,” Halpern said.

Another development once approved for TAD

Another Smyrna redevelopment project was also approved for a TAD, but the funding became void when the Georgia Supreme Court ruled in February 2008 that it is unconstitutional for local governments to use school revenues for the tax districts.

That project came up again last month when developers sought a re-zoning from the city for the development proposed to contain a 288-unit apartment complex and 25,000 square feet of retail space. The development is proposed for the corner of Atlanta Road and Spring Street where Jonquil Plaza once stood.

After the City Council denied the rezoning following complaints of residents, an attorney for the developer told the Journal that he plans to file a court appeal.

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