Dear Decaturish – More responses to Wild Heaven owner’s letter about Alexan Gateway project

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt July 9, 2018

Photo obtained from the city of Avondale Estates’ website. Click to enlarge.

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Editor’s note: Due to the receipt of  multiple letters on this topic, Decaturish is publishing two of the letters together. The letters were sent in response to this letter written by Nick Purdy, owner of Wild Heaven

Dear Decaturish,

This letter is specifically addressed to Mayor Elmore and the Board of Commissioners of the City of Avondale Estates:

I realize that emotions are high among many residents and handling the development process is not easy. However, winning is not about accepting projects “as is”. It is about working hard to achieve optimum results. It is working through a defined, transparent process and obtaining input from all stakeholders to reach an informed decision.

Appearing desperate to accept any development without enforcing our zoning laws and vision, established through the Master Plan, diminishes our ability to control development in the future. Commissioners being involved at the beginning of the process can negatively affect negotiations for improvements to the project.

Finding a way to “Yes” occurs in building consensus through listening to concerns of all stakeholders and addressing those concerns. There are some who accuse residents opposed to this project “as is” of being anti-development. Nothing could be further from the truth. The people I have seen at meetings and listened to their concerns are talented, thoughtful individuals with expertise in urban planning, real estate, zoning, finance, and property tax. The petition being distributed through the City was crafted by several of these individuals who have provided objective, fact based concerns with the Trammell Crow Residential (TCR) project. The South City Partners (SCP) project approved by the City and largely supported by many of the same engaged citizens, was granted huge variances to our zoning laws, including doubling building size and increasing density by 50 percent. The Trammell Crow project is requesting an additional 75 percent in building size and 21 percent in density over the variances granted to SCP.

Creating a sense of community is important at any socioeconomic level, and the Trammell Crow project fails in this area. There is minimal greenspace and limited walkability. The excessively large building creates a barrier between SCP and our downtown.

I urge you to address the concerns listed in the petition and work with TCR to achieve a higher quality project that will promote a sense of community and put the City in a position to achieve the vision established in our Master Plan.

Best Regards,

Lyda Steadman

 

 

Dear Decaturish,

This letter is specifically addressed to Mayor Elmore and the Board of Commissioners of the City of Avondale Estates:

In an open letter to the BOMC posted on Decaturish, Nick Purdy of Wild Heaven asks you to show courage in the face of community opposition to the Trammell Crow proposal, dismissing widespread citizen concerns as based on “classism” and unthinking opposition to development.

Courage is indeed called for. But it is the nearly 500 current Avondale citizens who have signed a petition to “Support Quality Development in Avondale” who are asking you to show genuine courage by standing up for the city’s vision as expressed in the Master Plan.

Courageous leadership means rejecting a project that will seal a new Edge City around Avondale Station, creating an obstacle to urban flow that sterilizes the surrounding area and barely engages with Avondale. Flying under the false colors of “mixed use,” Trammell Crow proposes apartments with very little business and almost no public spaces. Their proposal, which clocks in at nearly twice the occupants per acre that city ordinances currently permit, epitomizes the bad density typical of many contemporary urban areas: visually monotonous, massive buildings dominated by large sprawling parking garages, without diverse urban activity and lacking any inviting communal spaces. Located in the Downtown Business District but failing to provide businesses or jobs, this development will guarantee greater traffic congestion and more concentration of a single-income population.

The pressure is on you. It will take courage to reject this proposal, even though a project enabled by tax abatements that provides no real positive change to the tax basis is a bad financial deal for the city. As you know, in 2017, approximately 93 percent of the city’s revenue came from property taxes and only 7 percent from businesses, and Avondale’s Master Plan wisely calls for a critical mass of diverse businesses in the business district. While it is understandable that Mr. Purdy and other current business owners speak out in favor of having more potential customers in walking distance, developments like this one bring only nominal revenue increases but require costly city services that will be financed by raising taxes on current residents.

Tax abatements are an especially poor bargain for a city the size of Avondale: profiting developers while depriving the city of revenue that could go to underfunded schools, parks, and other priorities. Trammell Crow’s $1,500,000 tax abatement will skew tax assessments for the next decade while the millage rate continues to increase, causing ever more hardship for existing homeowners in the middle and lower income brackets. In a city with a roughly $3,000,000 operating budget that is financed over 90 percent by direct property taxes on residents, providing an abatement that will maximize profits for national and international investors and undermine rather than build Avondale’s downtown is a manifestly harmful urban practice.

After six well-attended meetings between Trammel Crow and various city committees and despite welcoming and constructive input from citizens, the developer has, on substance, not moved one inch in the direction of the city’s vision. An apartment complex with barely any retail or restaurants—and, again, without any meaningful public, cultural, and communal spaces—will only exacerbate the city’s existing financial challenges.

Avondale is a small city that needs businesses with appeal beyond the modest numbers that can be squeezed into its tight boundaries. Citizens—taxpayers—have the right to insist on the Master Plan’s vision of a thriving business district with a carefully calibrated mix of apartments, town houses, parks and profitable businesses. Please find the courage to say no to pseudo-mixed use and insist on recruiting more businesses to change the skewed balance of revenue sources in the city’s operating budget—not least to ensure that Avondale remains affordable for its long-term resident taxpayers.

It will take genuine courage to stand by Avondale’s vision of Parks, Arts + Opportunity and to protect the legacy of a city that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The growing edge city at the border to Decatur threatens to undermine Avondale’s hope for a thriving downtown and turn it into another faceless and empty place filled with mass-reproduced architecture optimized for investor profit. It is high time to complete the zoning update so we can attract developers who are interested in building projects that align with Avondale’s vision, finances, and density requirements. In the meanwhile, I call on you and on the PZB to follow the will of the citizens as expressed in our Master Plan and have the courage to call a moratorium on developments that do not advance our collective vision.

For the long-term good of our city, please find the courage necessary to reject Trammell Crow’s misguided pseudo-urbanism. Good design that creates density through multiple activities and constituencies generates good urban performance for decades, even centuries; bad design born in the spirit of “just do something” will be a barricade for as long.

– Klaus van den Berg

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About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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