JONESBORO — When Starbucks began building a new location on Tara Boulevard, the die was cast.
For county officials eager to beautify Tara Boulevard and attract high-paying businesses, it’s a welcome sight. For residents who are holding on by their fingernails, some worry it’s a sign of gentrification to come. Clayton County is one of the last areas in metro Atlanta where working-class people can find affordable housing.
At its April 16 meeting, the Board of Commissioners approved rezoning for two major upscale apartment complexes, one on Tara Boulevard, the other on Mt. Zion Circle near the AMC movie theater. (The Mt. Zion development also will offer townhouses for sale.) A condition for allowing those units to go up is that they incorporate stone and brick facades of the kind you see on new developments throughout metro Atlanta.
“Tru” and his 3-year-old daughter live in an extended stay hotel on Tara Boulevard. He works at a nearby car wash. Tru says he used to live in a complex near the proposed Tara development but had to move to the hotel. He is not happy about the new apartment prices, which the owner told the BOC would start at $1,000 per month for a one-bedroom.
“I’m all for having nicer apartments around here, but nobody can afford $1,000 for a one-bedroom apartment,” Tru said. “This is the ’hood!”
Tru told the News he hadn’t heard about the project before the BOC’s vote Tuesday night. He has walked past the zoning and variance signs posted in front of the locked gate many times.
“Oh, so that’s what those signs mean,” he said. “I was wondering about that.”
Had he known what they were, Tru said, he would have gone to the zoning hearing the night before.
The new market-rate apartments will go up at 6754 Tara Blvd., the former site of the troubled Legacy on Tara, a 1970s-era complex that the county condemned in 2009.
The site is overgrown with trees and brush. A locked gate purports to keep out trespassers, but it’s possible to slip through the opening or climb over.
The property has changed hands several times in the decade since. In 2011, the once-$3.9 million property was foreclosed upon and sold for $445,000. AOK Properties bought it from the bank in 2014 for $80,000, the 2017 assessed value. The present owner, Cook Road LLC, got it Nov. 8, in a quit claim deal. The Clayton County Tax Assessor valued it at $291,000 in 2018.
During Tuesday’s zoning hearing, Ali Katoot, the owner and principal, haggled with commissioners about the number of apartments required to make the project worth doing.
He said he had bought the property in 2011 and tried to build apartments but that the county put a moratorium in place and rezoned the site as Urban Village. He tried to sell it as an urban village but said no buyers would take the long, narrow property.
Katoot said the site be rezoned as apartments again and said to build 104 units. “I know in the packet it says 114,” he said, “but I think I would like to have at least 104 units to meet the scale of economy and make it a good operational for the apartments.”
Katoot said the property is in the Tara Boulevard Overlay District, which means “we would be have to be bonded to all the (zoning) requirements of the apartment, the way it looks and all that.”
That means 40 percent stone and brick facade, recreation space for residents, an 8-foot sidewalk on Tara Boulevard and not starting the project until all site issues have been resolved.
Commissioner Demont Davis said whether the apartments would include federal Housing and Urban Development subsidies.
“This is going to be a market-rate apartment,” Katoot replied.
“How about as far as occupancy?” said Commissioner Felicia Franklin-Warner, herself a real estate agent.
“It would be a mix of one and two, and probably three bedrooms,” Katootz said.
“Do you know how many of each?” said Commissioner Sonna Singleton Gregory. “I mean, when you talk about market rate, the two is good, and the three becomes, you know, a financial ...”
“Sure,” Katootz said. “We all know nowadays construction cost is very high. So that will be, these units will be leased at kind of a very high rate. So we have to take all that into consideration. But we own a lot of other apartments, and always you have the mix between one and two and three.”
“I’m really curious,” Gregory said, “because you said you’re market rate and I have been told so many times, I can’t find anybody to do market rate. Everybody wants to do income-based. And I’m just--I mean, I believe you, I’m just shocked. I mean, because of areas that we wanted market rate multi-family.” She shrugged.
“Well you heard it here,” said Chairman Jeff Turner. “He said he’s doing market rate and that’s what we’re going to hold him to.”
Warner, who also sits on the new governing board of The ATL transit authority, said, “It’s a great opportunity for a transit-oriented development.”
“In my opinion, this is definitely going to uplift this community,” said Davis, “as well as fall in line with the land use.” He moved to approve the zoning change with the stated conditions.
Interim Zoning Administrator Madolyn Spann pointed out that, at nine units per acre, the number of apartments generally allowed would be fewer than Katoot had requested. “At nine units per acre, we would yield about 81 units,” Spann told Davis.
“Do you mind if I just comment on this?” Katoot said. “There is a scale of economy on the apartments. You have to hire a manager, you have to hire maintenance, you have to hire staff. Really, we own and manage a lot of apartments. If that number goes below 100, it’s really hard to get all the staff for the scale of economy.”
Davis moved and Franklin-Warner seconded approval of the apartments with conditions. The motion passed unanimously, pending final approval of the zoning variance.
As for the notion that bringing in more expensive housing would cut down on crime, Tru wasn’t convinced.
“They’ve been saying that for years. If it were true, there wouldn’t be no crime. When they put that in here, right next to those apartments,” he said, pointing to his former complex, “what’s gonna happen? Those people are gonna come over here.”
Asked how the county might address low-income residents’ concerns, Commissioner Gregory said, “We already have an abundance of affordable housing, multi-family and single-family, in the county to meet the needs of residents who cannot afford market rate prices. We need to balance this out by providing more market rate multi-family housing.”
Gregory said that residents who can afford market-rate apartments “will also be able to support our local retail and businesses,” which also would boost local option sales tax revenues.
A frequent complaint from residents, both high- and low-income, is that Clayton County has too many dollar stores. Gregory said, “I believe this county is ripe for market rate apartments to attract the younger generation of residents. They are not ready for home ownership but want a nice safe place to stay. On the other hand, if we allow income-based apartments, we continue to attract the dollar stores because the occupants have less disposable income.”
Even though he has a child to support and walks to and from work, Tru said he was going to make the time to tell other people about the new apartment complex.
“I might get a petition and show up at that meeting.”
See all Clayton County planning and zoning calendars at www.claytoncountyga.gov/government/community-development/planning-zoning-sustainability/zoning-boards-and-calendars.
See a map of how gentrification affects metro Atlanta at www.governing.com/gov-data/atlanta-gentrification-maps-demographic-data.html.
Read Clayton County’s comprehensive plan for development at www.claytoncountyga.gov/home/showdocument?id=7457.
See how Tara Boulevard might look in the future at www.claytoncountyga.gov/home/showdocument?id=10484.