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Impact fees, tax districts may be in county's future

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

After six months of consideration, the Clayton County Board of Commissioners may move forward with plans to incorporate impact fees on new development in the county.

Impact fees -- a one-time charged assessed on new developments -- would bring in much-needed revenue, and likely spur more quality development throughout the area, proponents say.

The county's economic development operation is also putting together plans for two new Tax Allocation Districts -- one in Northwest Riverdale and Mountain View along the Sullivan Road/Forest Parkway corridor, and another in the Riverwalk area, along Upper Riverdale Road and Tara Boulevard. The TAD -- a special tax district where existing property tax revenues are gathered to fund specific projects -- could be used by the county as a vehicle for redevelopment.

On Tuesday, the BOC agreed to move forward with plans to appoint a 10-member committee to conduct a feasibility study on impact fees. The committee -- the first legal step in obtaining impact fees -- was approved unanimously in July of last year, but until now, no action had been taken.

While neighboring Henry County instituted impact fees throughout its 1990s building boom to much success, Clayton County is the only county in the metro region without impact fees, according to Clayton County Fire Chief Alex Cohilas. At Tuesday night's BOC workshop meeting, Cohilas urged the board to speed up the process.

"I think we need to move forward with naming the 10-member committee, because there is a lot of work that needs to be done," said Cohilas. "This is our chance to do it right. We haven't done it right for 20, 30 years."

Cohilas said it is not too late for the county to benefit from impact fees, noting that the Atlanta Regional Commission reports that the county has about nine more years before it reaches its capacity for new development. However, the county has never completed comprehensive build-out analyses, something Cohilas said is vitally needed before pursuing impact fees.

"You can't plan for the future, if you don't know what you have right now, or what the potential for growth is," said Cohilas. He said a comprehensive study would help determine where to set impact fees and what public-infrastructure needs the fees should address.

Cohilas said impact fees would help enforce tougher building ordinances, which would in turn, create subdivisions that are more attractive to potential buyers.

"I'm more concerned about the consumer, rather than the builder," he said. "Quality builders do not mind paying impact fees at all."

The two Riverdale TAD projects proposed by Economic Development Director Robin Roberts are long overdue, according to District 2 Commissioner Virginia Gray. She said she has been fighting for the projects for the last three years to address redevelopment needs in the Cherry Hill subdivision in northwest Riverdale.

"I have been preaching and prodding about the two [TAD projects] in my district for some time," said Gray. "That's the only mission I have had since I came into office that I have not been able to accomplish."

Gray said that before the fifth runway at Hartsfield Jackson International Airport was commissioned recently, most of the surrounding neighborhoods were bought out by the airport, with the exception of Cherry Hill.

"They really sit right on that runway," said Gray about the Cherry Hill subdivision. "They have endured all of the dust and the noise. We need good quality businesses, as well as residential, so that is what the TAD will do."

While Gray envisioned development similar to Crystal City near Reagan National Airport in Arlington County, Va., she and other commissioners said the TAD plans are premature, noting that a feasibility study and a bidding process will need to take place before any TAD projects can happen.

"A complete feasibility study needs to be completed to see what the economic advantages of a TAD would be," said District 3 commissioner Wole Ralph. "Right now, we don't have any of that information.

"The TAD is a tool to get you somewhere, but its not the end result," said Ralph. "We have to decide what job we want done, before we decide what tool to use."