Tuesday, June 21, 2011

The PCID and Dunwoody and TODs

At last night's council meeting we had very little public comment. Here's a link to the video.  The only public comment came from the PCID spokesperson.  She expressed her pleasure with council approving a measure that puts a parks bond and a land acquisition bond on the ballot this November.  The PCID would love for more green space in Dunwoody (not necessarily in the PCID proper, but close enough that people living and working in the PCID can access this green space).  She did not comment on the issue of impact fees being dropped from the agenda.  Still waiting for someone on council to put this back on the agenda.  If you want green space to accompany multi-family units in the PCID, better put it on the books now via impact fees or forget about it.

The PCID representative did not want council to waste time focusing on percentages of jobs versus apartments from the PCID study.  Sure, let's just let PCID set the rules and percentages.  Go ahead and give them their own sign ordinance as well. (side note: How does a hardcore FarmHouser go from being anti-sign to the mouthpiece/sign guru for the PCID?)

A few posts ago I touched on a PCID study.  I mentioned the "mixed income" text from the document, and stated that low income housing (Section 8) would soon follow.  My gardening buddy Farmer Bob was quick to snap at me for using a scare tactic like "Section 8".  My point is that in the southeast USA apartment rents do not increase with time - they go lower.  Let's look at the Walmart area.  A new apartment unit is built and rents for $1,200 a month.  Two years later something newer opens in the same area.  They charge the going rate of $1200 a month.  So who wants to pay $1200 for something older when the newer units 100 yards away are the same price?  The $1200 unit becomes $1000 a month.  A year later, yet another complex goes up and charges $1200 a month.  The $1000 a month unit drops to $800, and so on and so on.

Let's get back to an examination of the PCID Transit Villages.  Afterall, people would much rather live next to a MARTA station than in the shadows of a big-box retail store, right?

MARTA and the Feds (HUD, FTA, etc.) have set guidelines for these Transit Villages.  Grants are available for these mixed income housing developments, as long as you play the game according to THEIR rules, not Dunwoody rules.

So the PCID is interested in these Transit Villages.  Take a look HERE at the MARTA web site.


Scroll down to page 5 of 7, item #4.

For those of you too lazy to click the link, here you go:

4. Affordable Housing

As stated on page 48 of the TOD Guidelines, MARTA believes that residential and mixed-use TOD projects should include a significant component of affordable housing. Achieving this will require a collaborative effort among multiple stakeholders—the municipal and county zoning jurisdictions in the MARTA service area, their housing authorities, the state of Georgia, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, for-profit and non-profit developers, lenders, community groups, and MARTA itself. Together, these stakeholders must be prepared to apply a diverse affordable housing “toolbox”, including land availability, zoning, housing finance subsidy programs, and infrastructure improvements. MARTA intends to be an active participant in this process.

To that end, MARTA will apply a policy goal of 20% affordability, on average, to joint development projects undertaken subsequent to the adoption of the TOD Guidelines. As defined by MARTA, affordable housing includes workforce housing, as well as housing affordable to seniors with low, moderate, or fixed incomes and persons with disabilities. Workforce housing, in turn, is defined as rental housing affordable to households earning 60% to 80% percent of the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area Median Income (“AMI”); or for-sale housing affordable to households earning 80% to 100% percent of AMI.

Joint development projects with 10 or more residential units will be subject to the following requirements. On a project-by-project basis, MARTA will establish a minimum percentage of affordable units. The percentage will reflect market conditions, zoning, and the availability of federal, state, or local housing finance incentives. MARTA may specify that a portion of the required affordable units shall consist specifically of workforce housing. The minimum percentage of affordable units established for a given project will be considered a “floor”, and developers will be encouraged to propose additional affordable units through the Request for Proposals (RFP) scoring criteria. Similarly, the AMI percentile used to define workforce units will be considered a “ceiling”, and developers will be encouraged to provide units affordable to lower AMI percentiles.

Within the density allowed by zoning (including any zoning relief or modification which may be associated with a project), MARTA will use both higher densities and reduced parking requirements as financial incentives for the inclusion of workforce units. MARTA will encourage zoning jurisdictions to adopt reduced parking requirements for TOD housing in general and affordable housing in particular, reflecting lower average car ownership among transit-dependent households.

The affordable housing requirements for each project and any applicable incentives will be clearly stated in the Request for Proposals. The affordable housing terms offered by the designated developer and agreed to by MARTA, will be included in the Joint Development Agreement (“JDA”). The JDA will also include specific procedures to ensure that the designated affordable units are delivered on schedule; are designed and built consistent with the standards required by MARTA; are marketed on a fair and transparent basis to households earning no more than the AMI percentile and household size associated with each unit; are maintained as affordable for an extended period of time; and cannot be used as speculative investments.

Now I could be on the wrong track here.  Perhaps the PCID version of a Transit Village is different than the MARTA guidelines stated here.  I'll stand by and wait to here from the PCID folks......I'll pack a lunch. 

The MARTA document states "Workforce housing, in turn, is defined as rental housing affordable to households earning 60% to 80% percent of the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area Median Income"

From the HUD web site
Section 8 rental subsidies are provided to project owners on behalf of families that are eligible low-income families at the time of their admission by the project owners to the program. Under the Housing Act, "low income families" are defined as those families whose annual incomes do not exceed eighty percent (80%) of the median income for the area in which the project is located, adjusted for family size, as determined by HUD at least annually

The big issue we will face with Transit Villages is the PCID's definition of workforce housing. The workforce in the King and Queen buildings?  Or the workforce driving the cabs at the North Springs MARTA station?

I'm sure someone from HUD or the ACLU or some other alphabet organization will tell me the 'official' difference between Section 8 and WorkForce Housing.  I'll keep you posted.

From Page 6 of MARTA document:
 Zoning approvals, relief, or modification. MARTA joint development projects, like all development in Metro Atlanta, are subject to zoning and land use controls at the county or municipal level. MARTA will support zoning approvals for its joint development projects, and may at its discretion advocate for zoning relief or modifications which are needed to facilitate specific joint development projects, or project objectives such as mixed uses, affordable housing, or sustainability. MARTA may advocate for such outcomes on its own initiative or in support of a designated developer, as appropriate in a given circumstance.
How will your next mayor and council (and the city manager) deal with issues like this in the future? A few people have announced they are running for office.  Ask them about their viewpoint on the PCID and density.  Ask if their financial support (campaign funds) came from PCID connected people.  Ask them why a planned increase of jobs versus apartments in the PCID.  Remind them this is not China - we drive cars here.
Peachtree Dunwoody Road at Abernathy Road, 2025

Some of you may think the Transit Village idea is awesome, some of you won't.  These Transit Village plans are straight out of Europe. You like the Europeanization of the United States?  Put F.A. Hayek's The Road to Serfdom on your summer reading list. Metro Atlanta is not Europe, yet, but keep an eye out for a Transit Village coming your way. For those of you in favor of TOD (Transit Oriented Development) read here to prepare your oral arguments.

Look for the Dunwoody/Perimeter Gare du Midi to open in 2020. Farmer Bob and I will help start a community garden there for the Section 8 Workforce residents.

Councilman Ross Not Seeking Reelection

Earlier today I posted the official announcement from Mr. Ross regarding his intentions to not run for the at-large council seat for district 2.  Mr. Ross, over the past couple of years, has been the most interesting councilman to follow.  He took the biggest risks, created his own video presentations, and made passionate arguments.  Mr. Ross dreamed big, most notably supporting a local non-profit to bring the GA Music Hall of Fame to Dunwoody.  Although the effort to relocate the Hall anywhere failed due to political interference at the state level (the Hall now is being dismantled) Mr. Ross worked honestly on the bid effort.  It would have been the biggest attraction in Dunwoody, aside from the Perimeter Mall. The future of the Spruill site is still in question, but we can only hope the failed effort to put apartments/condos there does not come up again.

I agreed with Mr. Ross (and Mr. Shortal) on keeping our 911 with DeKalb County.  The official 911 move to Sandy Springs occurs in October of this year, just prior to the city elections.  Hopefully it will be a smooth transition.  Considering the higher costs to taxpayers and all the accolades tossed around for the Sandy Springs 911 program, one would expect a seamless move.

There were things that I disagreed with Mr. Ross on, but if you follow all the issues sooner or later you'll find a disagreement with each council member.  One thing I know from attending most council meetings is that Mr. Ross always wanted a better Dunwoody.  He spent hours creating and tweaking  presentations, spoke to city residents, and sought outside counsel on issues like 911.  Officially council is a part-time job, but like our mayor and council members, he worked it as a full-time gig.

Thanks for your service, Mr. Ross. Enjoy fishing down on the bayou.

Danny Ross and District 2 City Council

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Rewarding Bad Behavior & Is the Source of the Leaks Now Known?

Richard Belcher, the latest media tool for a disgruntled DeKalb School Board member is at it again, this time with full cooperation of the school board chairman.  Let's back up a minute.  The school system is trying needs to hire a superintendent, eventually.  Discussions with candidates happen behind closed doors, and the details are supposed to stay there as well.

So a person(s) on the school board has twice revealed information to Channel 2 News, and Channel 2's Richard Belcher has taken these private sessions public.  We're not talking about some issue of national security, but secrecy is still important here.  Belcher knows the history of DeKalb, and he knows the situation in the school system.  He probably knows that thousands and thousands of kids suffer academically, partially due to poor decision making by the past boards and past superintendents. Belcher has intentionally derailed the superintendent search, thus the designation here of being a media tool.  Look for Belcher to win the Southeastern Regional Emmy for "Tool of the Year".  Enough on Belcher, he's simply trying to live in the shadow of John Bachman.

So a local TV guy is blabbing on TV about your Board's private discussions on a search for a superintendent.  What do you do if you are Board Chairman and Belcher requests a sit-down interview?  Ignore him?  Explain to him that his reporting of leaks is costing DeKalb taxpayers money?  Ask him to allow the process of hiring a superintendent to continue, without the leaks?  Tell him what he did was wrong?  Nah, that makes too much sense. How about you grant him the interview, then during the interview possibly VIOLATE DEKALB"S ETHICS POLICY BY ANNOUNCING AN EXTENSION TO RAMONA TYSON'S CONTRACT AS SUPERINTENDENT.

In review of the last two school board meetings nothing was discussed in regards to extending Tyson's "temporary" role as superintendent, thus keeping the DeKalb Friends & Family program rolling along.  Based on a new interview with Belcher and Tom Bowen (school board chair), an extension for Tyson was discussed in Executive Session, not publicly.  For Bowen to announce this to DeKalb taxpayers, parents, and students, via a TV interview with the guy reporting all the leaks is very troublesome.

Here is a link to the TV interview.

Impact Fees for Dunwoody?

Dunwoody City Council is considering adding new impact fees for those choosing to develop new land uses in the city.  Impact fees, if approved by council, would be assessed mainly to residential and commercial developers.  These fees could be used for roads, additional public safety projects, parks, and stormwater systems. Impact fees are a common way for government agencies to generate revenue to fund projects that would be needed due to the new land uses.

Certain changes in land use will require additional resources from the city.  New apartment buildings planned for the PCID (Perimeter Mall area) are an example of why the city needs impact fees. The Perimeter Center Community Improvement District (PCID) recently completed a study, giving great details of its future.  The plan includes projections for new office and retail space, new apartments, and many other items.  The plan is quite interesting so look for it on the www.perimetercid.org website.  Of interest to local homeowners will be the staggering amount of rental apartment demand projected for the area.  Keep in mind the PCID study covers the entire PCID area, part of which is Dunwoody with the other part being in Sandy Springs.

The PCID plan suggests the demand for another 5000 apartments within ten years.  But looking out 25 years, the plan suggests a total demand of 17,495 new rental apartments.  Do you think our city will be ‘impacted’ by perhaps 50% or more of 17,495 apartments?  In regards to future growth, the PCID document states as a goal, “to integrate transit and have vibrant Transit Villages at each of the MARTA stations with mixed-income housing”. Sounds like something I’d take a pass on.

Unfortunately, apartment builders (and home builders) cannot be assessed impact fees to build schools.  The PCID document in discussion fails to address school capacity and does not mention schools, but does call for “civic realm with art works”. I’m sure the parents of Dunwoody school kids spending eight hours a day in an old rental trailer will be thankful the PCID is planning on art works throughout the PCID. To be fair to the PCID, they don’t control schools.  The goal of the PCID is to increase everything (office space, density, population, retail, etc.), not to build schools.  But is the PCID communicating with the school system?  Until a last-minute change, the school system did not have any plans for new schools in Dunwoody.  If the PCID truly is interested in being a partner with the rest of Dunwoody, perhaps they can form a committee to coordinate with the DeKalb School System, or perhaps form a PCID charter school.
Can the city create impact fees that promote smart growth while protecting quality of life for city residents?  The city could require green space be included in new land use plans.  Many city residents are actively involved in a debate regarding the parks plan for our city.  If some feel green space is in short demand now, what’s the impact of 8,000 or 9,000 new apartments going to have on our limited parks?  

Would it be appropriate to use impact fees to aid in building a new police station?  Crime increases with density so I think impact fees for public safety are appropriate.  With more apartments (and businesses) you have more impervious surfaces and increased stormwater runoff.  Stormwater infrastructure is expensive to build and maintain.  Impact fees can be used to offset these costs. One of the city’s biggest liabilities is rarely mentioned; it’s our stormwater system.  

Impact fees for single-family homes?  Obviously a single-family home has less of an impact on city services and infrastructure than does an apartment building or condo complex.  I suggest city council look to provide waivers for single-family homes, with some limits.  

Would a business choose not to relocate or not build here because of impact fees?  Excessive fees, yes. Fees on par with Sandy Springs and Roswell, no.  As the city and PCID seek new businesses to relocate here, the city should expect some new residents to follow.  Council needs to act now and establish an impact fee schedule that does not hamper business growth yet will provide revenue (and perhaps green space) once the developers start breaking ground for thousands more apartments in the PCID.  I hope city council does not allow the PCID to be the tail wagging the dog; the dog being the City of Dunwoody.

At last week's council meeting, the agenda was long, as usual.  The 'impact fee' issue was kicked to the curb.  Will someone on council insists on bringing the issue back to the table, or will non-elected staff members run the show? Did the PCID, who was present for last week's meeting, pressure city staff to pull impact fees from discussion for the rest of the year?  Hopefully someone on council will insist this issue be discussed and implemented, regardless of its affect on 'Kingdom Building'.