If the council puts the bond referendum on the ballot, voters would decide its fate Nov. 5.
At the request of the council, Beth Sessoms, the city’s economic development director, presented suggestions on how the $35 million bond could be spent: dividing $25 million for buying aging apartment complexes along Franklin Road; $7.3 million for two new roads that would run east of Southern Polytechnic State and Life universities, connecting those schools with Franklin Road and whatever future redevelopment occurs there; $1.5 million for Whitlock Avenue sidewalks, landscaping and pedestrian street lamps; and $1.2 million to renovate the former Lemon Street School, home to the city’s and county’s black students prior to desegregation.
Given that the bond would be issued under the Urban Redevelopment Powers Law, Sessoms said it was necessary to amend the city’s urban redevelopment plan to include Whitlock Avenue for it to receive bond money.
Council members Jim King and Annette Lewis wondered how Whitlock Avenue residents would feel at being including in this plan. Lewis pointed out that the definition for being included within the geographic boundaries of the plan meant the area had to show signs of dilapidation and vacancy.
“We’re not calling Gov. Barnes’ house a slum on Whitlock Avenue,” Mayor Steve Tumlin joked, noting that the city would have to lower Barnes’ taxes if it did that.
Councilman Andy Morris also questioned the need for spending $1.2 million on the Lemon Street School, asking how that would help with the city’s redevelopment efforts.
Sessoms said she was still researching exactly what the Lemon Street building could be used for, prompting Morris to observe that the time was getting close to make a decision to place the bond on the ballot, but he didn’t yet know what he was voting on.
Connecting to Franklin Road
The area the city would spend the bulk of the bond money on is a mile-and-a-half strip of Franklin Road between Delk Road and South Marietta Parkway that has about 3,100 aging apartment units. Sessoms said there are 10 apartment complexes along that stretch, one townhome development and one condominium development. An additional apartment complex on Franklin lies just south of Delk Road with 128 units.
King and Philip Goldstein said the townhome complex and condo development were off the table.
“We have no interest in acquiring those,” King said.
Given that the townhome development has 119 individual owners, Tumlin said it would likely make it impossible to acquire anyway.
Sessoms said the complexes produced $785,000 in school tax revenue in 2012, yet it cost about $6 million to educate the children there that same year.
Goldstein and King also raised concerns about two roads relying on funds other than the bond to be completed.
A proposed “University North Parkway Connector,” at an estimated length of 2,500 feet, would stretch from Cobb Parkway between Polytechnic Drive and Life’s Way to Franklin Road at Parkway Place. Sessoms said the $5.7 million cost of that road could be broken down into $3 million from the bond and $2.7 million from potential federal dollars or future special purpose local option sales tax dollars.
The second proposed road, called the “University South Parkway Connector,” at an estimated length of 4,905 feet, would stretch from Cobb Parkway at Barclay Circle to Franklin Road near Franklin Forest Industrial Park. That $11 million cost, Sessoms said, could be broken down into $4.3 million from the bond proceeds and $6.7 million from federal or SPLOST dollars.
Goldstein said the proposal for the roads that the bond would partially pay for should be worded in such a way that if the federal dollars didn’t come in, they could spend the money on just one of them.
City engineer Jim Wilgus expressed confidence in the availability of federal funding.
Morris joked that one of the roads could be named Goldstein Parkway.
Goldstein also argued for specificity in the bond language, saying the boundaries in question for the $25 million should be tied to Franklin Road. In the event owners of the apartment complexes wouldn’t sell, the money should be returned to retire the debt, he said.
Questions about students
Robbie Huck of Marietta, who sat listening in the audience, asked to address the council on the subject. Huck questioned the idea of government being permitted to buy and sell property. She also asked why the numbers of students in each complex were being listed.
Councilman Grif Chalfant said the reason was to show what the property would look like as commercial, rather than residential property.
Huck asked why the city was trying to reduce the number of students in Marietta.
Goldstein said what would likely happen, given the apartment complexes have such high vacancy rates, is that once the city razed several of them, the renters would move into the others, allowing those fuller apartment complexes to have the revenue needed to keep up with repairs, as well as be choosy about whom to accept as renters.
“So you’re not trying to get rid of the kids?” Huck asked.
Lewis said it was a matter of improving the quality of the buildings in the area.
Huck said she was opposed to the city taking on the debt of the bond, arguing if it was too risky for private developers to redevelop the area, what makes the city think it’s not too risky for public money to be used.
Tumlin said that question would likely be decided by the city’s 56,000 residents if the council places it on the ballot.