‘PVC farm’ out of limbo at last
September 02, 2014 04:00 AM | 2190 views | 0 0 comments | 14 14 recommendations | email to a friend | print
It’s been a l-o-n-g 10 years, wracked by recession and controversy, but construction is reportedly soon to start on the now-vacant site of the old Johnny Walker Homes public housing project on Powder Springs Street.

The Marietta City Council gave the go-ahead Wednesday night for the residential development plan brought forward by Atlanta-based real estate company Minerva, which bought the 10-acre site in June from the Myrick Co., of Alpharetta, which went belly-up in 2011 before it could get to second base on its $50 million mixed-use residential/commercial plans for the site. Myrick was still installing infrastructure when work stopped, leaving the site dotted with PVC pipe stubs poking out of the ground. Hence, the site has been unofficially referred to since then as “the PVC farm.”

Myrick purchased the site in 2006 from the city, which in turn had acquired it from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in 2003 after HUD began emphasizing subsidized Section 8 housing instead of cramming the underprivileged into what often were crime-afflicted, slum-like housing projects.

Marietta City Hall’s “Plan A” for the land was to promise a lavish Tax Allocation District subsidy of $6 million and $10 million to lure developers for what city leaders repeatedly described as a “blighted” property. But the fact was once the public housing units were demolished, the land that remained has plenty to offer and could hardly be described as blighted: It is served by one of the busiest surface streets in Cobb, is within easy walking distance of Marietta Square, was already graded and had basic infrastructure in place, and was sandwiched between the Marietta Conference Center and the tidy neighborhood just north of Reynolds Street. Moreover, it was not afflicted with environmental cleanup challenges; nor did it have a crime problem with Walker Homes out of the picture — two issues the TAD law was originally written to help address.

After the TAD push fell through, Myrick stepped forward, proving correct those critics who said the private sector deserved first crack at developing the property, rather than City Hall’s eager decision to shift the inherent risk on the backs of taxpayers.

The ensuing recession was a terrible thing for Myrick and many others, but the fact is that it underlined the correctness of the decision not to approve the TAD subsidy. The financial debacle dragged down the developer — but not city taxpayers, at least not as far as the Walker tract was involved.

Like Myrick, Minerva plans to build 58 Craftsman-style townhomes and single-family homes on the site. The commercial component of the plans for the site have now been dropped.

Those homes will be a welcome addition to the site, both visually and in terms of their addition to the city’s tax base. They will also help reverse the city’s badly imbalanced ratio of homeowners-to-renters, which is roughly the opposite of the two-to-one ratio that prevails nationally.

As we noted at the outset, it has been a trying decade in many ways for the Walker site, but we, and we suspect most other Mariettans, are happy to finally see it moving out of limbo.

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