Dear Decaturish – DeKalb needs diverse industry, zoning to thrive
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Editor’s note: Decaturish has invited city officials to write a rebuttal this letter and it will be published if they decide to submit one. Also, the developer says this project will have 289 apartments.
DeKalb County has come a long way since its humble beginnings as farm country carved out of Henry County. Even its first generation of growth as a bedroom community is long in the rear view, leaving a legacy of a residential-heavy tax base.
Our national and Georgia economies as well as most all of metro Atlanta are approaching official “full employment.” DeKalb County lags slightly, while our population continues to grow, and we need our jobs base to stay broad and wide, and not just growing among lower and minimum wage positions within the retail and service industries.
Fortunately, DeKalb’s maturity also means multiple light and heavier industrial districts countywide. Ranging from Scottdale’s steel mill to the Big Green Egg HQ in Doraville, DeKalb still has manufacturing jobs, particularly within packaged foods and building materials/supplies. We also have great opportunity in skilled technical trades, technical fabrication, and the creative arts, as these industries have been displaced from the urban core, and from Decatur, Chamblee and other DeKalb cities by newer housing and specialty retail. These industrial occupations, some with lower skill level requirements, are often found in DeKalb among small to mid-sized family owned enterprises in operation for decades.
But there are short sighted plans in the offing to convert many of these smaller job centers and light industrial districts to other uses, most frequently multi-family residential housing. One such planned 9-acre assemblage in unincorporated DeKalb at the city of Decatur’s eastern boundary on Ponce de Leon Avenue at Sam’s Crossing defies logic, and was rejected for re-zoning by the DeKalb County Commission before withdrawal by the developers. Those speculators are now shopping for annexation and permission from the City of Decatur for up to 450 apartments, crammed into a 9-acre site, and requiring a 40-foot retaining wall, facing east at street level, to level out the site’s uneven topography on a hillside.
Students living in this annexation would attend city of Decatur schools, well known for its low student teacher ratio and class sizes. The system’s smallest elementary school, Glennwood Elementary, which has been at or near its capacity of 250 students since 2014, is a short walk from the proposed walled apartment complex. And these new housing units, with hundreds of parking spaces, will generate even more congestion for the Sam’s Crossing choke-point.
There are already apartments with nearly 500 units currently open or under construction within a three block walk of this proposed annexation. Decatur cannot be characterized as apartment-poor. Two projects, just across Sam’s Crossing will come on line and open for leasing in 2019, while a third and fourth complex, north of the site on North Arcadia Drive, seldom reach 70 percent occupancy. This glut of new luxury apartments will likely hasten their decline. Vacant apartments do not age well, tax laws allow them to depreciate quickly and drop off the property tax rolls in roughly a decade. Not so with industrial property, factories or even warehouses, which also generally continue to employ for generations
So why does this site seem so derelict? The diverse group of property owners a party to the assemblage are bound by a restrictive contract, only allowing a transaction to proceed with the permission of the developer, who continues to demand zoning changes to maximize profit on the project. The existing contract even calls for other willing buyers at higher price points to be turned away in favor of this apartment scheme.
Decatur’s Mayor, and our friend Patti Garrett, has been suggesting that DeKalb complete its Comprehensive Annexation Plan, to prevent knee-jerk zoning and annexation land grabs by DeKalb’s increasingly aggressive municipalities. We agree, and hope that Decatur’s Mayor and City Commission hear their own Mayor’s words in consideration of this most recently proposed annexation…with five years of failure by this project fully factored in.
We think there is a better path ahead for this area, with the DeKalb Medical Center main campus and VA service and rehabilitation center each within a few hundred yards of the proposed site. Given Congressional support and the V.A.’s plans for Veteran’s Choice care options, and expansions plans for DeKalb Medical expected to follow its successful acquisition by Emory University Health Care, new area medical services, professional buildings and specialty centers seem a much more logical fit and a significantly greater center of employment than another block/box filled with apartments.
DeKalb County has turned a corner, along with a renewed sense of purpose and open dialogue, the county is working with its municipalities towards all ships rising. It only takes a few rowing in the wrong direction to change the positive flow of currents.
– DeKalb County Commissioners Jeff Rader (District 2), Kathie Gannon (Super District 6) and Steve Bradshaw (District 4)