Sunday, May 17, 2009

Developer asks for huge tax break

According to today's AJC, without a $52 million subsidy, Sembler says his site in Brookhaven will not be finished. Sembler is asking DeKalb County School System, DeKalb County Commissioners, and Eugene Walker, the authority chairman for help. (Walker received at least $18,000 in donations to his school board campaign from Sembler company associates last year). Sembler has a reputation for buying politicians. I do not know if this is a fact but I do know that the internet is full of interesting information to read on the topic.

The AJC states “Eugene Walker, the authority chairman, said his colleagues would vote on the matter at a yet-to-be-scheduled meeting in June, though there is some uncertainty whether they have all the discretion. Walker, who was elected to the school board last year, said the authority would, as a courtesy, seek the support of his colleagues in the school system and of the County Commission.”

(IMO) First, I do not understand why Eugene Walker is allowed to be on the development authority board and a school board member. On top of that, why is he the chairman? It is bad enough he is on the committee. This is such a conflict of interest to the taxpayers of DeKalb County. If DeKalb does this for Sembler, it cannot discriminate against other companies. It would have to consider all companies who are in financial situation and currently we would be in a mess. I believe if the deal was not made up front, it should not be made on the back end.

Do you feel a major developer that has come up with a tin cup to DeKalb County begging for $52 million in tax breaks should get the tax breaks? Do you feel this is fair to the minority companies in Dekalb County who do not have the money to pay out money to Eugene Walker's campaign and to other political campaigns for possible political favors? Should Eugene Walker have been put in this situation by the county commissioners? Did the county commissioners make a bad decision by allowing Eugene Walker to be on the school board and chairman of the housing authority board?


Cerebration said...

Allow me to repost my original article (harbinger) about the election of Gene Walker to the school board.

Monday, January 5, 2009
Dr. Eugene Walker - Someone to Watch...

Did you know…

Dr. Eugene Walker – our newly elected representative for District 9 on the DeKalb County School Board - has also served on numerous boards for the county – and currently STILL serves as the Chair of the DeKalb Development Authority?

Did you know that the DeKalb County School Board and the DeKalb Development Authority are not his only responsibilities? Eugene Walker currently serves as the Chairman of The Private Hospital Authority of DeKalb County and The Residential Care Facilities for the Elderly of DeKalb County as well.

Development Authorities were created by the Georgia General Assembly in for the purpose of promoting trade, commerce, industry, and employment opportunities for the public good and to promote the general welfare of the State. The Development Authority of DeKalb County was established in 1974 to promote economic development within DeKalb. It assists in financing business facilities and equipment for job creation and expansion. Do these goals align or conflict with the goals of a school system?

Did you know that the Supreme Court of the State of Georgia deemed the practice of using school taxes to fund developments known as TAD’s unconstitutional?

Did you know that the Georgia Legislature introduced and voters in November, passed an Amendment to the Georgia Constitution allowing School Boards to take part in funding these private developments using school tax dollars?

Did you know that one of the private developers with the deepest pockets, the Sembler Company – the people who tried to buy and develop school property at North Druid Hills Road also contributed at least $18,000 to the recent winning School Board campaign of Eugene Walker?

One more thing – did you also know – Dr. Lewis – Superintendent of DeKalb County Schools - was sponsored into the Commerce Club by Eugene Walker?

Think about it. Are these connections to developers good or bad for someone elected to serve our schools? We'll be watching...

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow posting.
The Brookhaven project was mixed use ( retail, apartments), as originally proposed. Does anyone here know if part of the proposal was also for either an assisted living or residential care project?
Many of these mixed use projects have additional authorities signed on for the finance. It enables those doing legal work for the authorities to generate fees from each authority.
If the Brookhaven project doesn't have an assisted living
in it's proposal, it will still generate legal fees for both the
development and housing authorities of Dekalb County.
The name of the game is making money for our friends. I call it abuse by (allegedly) government created authorities.

Ella Smith said...

Anonymous, and Cerebration, lets be fair and balanced here as we have been acused of not being. Sembler is white. Why would he be getting a tax break and he is not even from DeKalb County while, so many of our minority building companies here at home who just happen to be minority African American American and Latino not getting this option. Is there even the possiblity it is about political donations and is it even the possibility that this shows how unethical the situation really is. Who should investigate this situation? I know Dr. Walker should ethically not vote and not ethically try to convince anyone else to vote in a certain way as to the large donations he received for Sembler.

The Civil Rights Activists comes out in my every time. I can not help that I feel things should be above board and fair for all. This is just the way God made me.

Cerebration said...

Here's a link to the project's website, which has very little information

Here's a link to a pdf doc on the project, which also has very little information

Town/Brookhaven is a state-of-the art mixed-use development in Atlanta’s Brookhaven community, conveniently situated on Peachtree Road, north of Lenox Square Mall and Phipps Plaza and adjacent to historic Oglethorpe University.

The project will consist of approximately 600,000 square feet of big box retail, Jr. anchors, restaurants and boutiques, an upscale Theater and Bookstore, 30,000 square feet of office, as well as more than 1,000 residential units. This remarkable center Sembler is creating is an innovative, intensely landscaped, pedestrian-friendly urban village, built for convenience and accessibility. Sembler assembled four separate parcels to create Town/Brookhaven. This is a smart growth project that creates a sense of community while being respectful of the environment and surrounding neighborhoods.

Construction recently commenced and opening is slated for Fall 2009.

population (2007) within:
3 miles: 109,450
5 miles: 265,881
7 miles: 500,357
average household income:
3 miles: $95,528
5 miles: $96,705
7 miles: $95,884

traffic count (2007 AADT):
Peachtree Road at Hermance - 32,800
Dresden Drive at Peachtree Road - 32,800

contact: If you have interest in this project or require additional information, please call
Lindsay Douglas at 404.847.1800
For outparcel information contact Michael Morris or Patrick Deal at 404.847.1800

Dan Magee said...

Sembler took a risk when developing this project. For them to come back and ask for a handout of $52 million from county taxpayers is shameful. A Board of Education member doubling as a DeKalb Development Authority member, pushing for the $52 million tax break, is equally as shameful.

This property is in a fantastic location. If Sembler has to sell it, there will be many interested parties in purchasing it. It is not up to DeKalb County taxpayers to subsidize a company that took a risk. A "free market" means some companies take a loss.

I expect CEO Ellis and all seven of the county commissioners to answer Sembler with a big fat "NO".

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow, returning to post.

There's one other elected official besides Walker that's been
approached by Sembler. Has anyone forgot Cheerleadergate with Elaine Boyer, contributions courtesy of Sembler?

Ella Smith said...

District 2 commissioner is the only one who was against the appointment is my understanding. It is sad.

I am not saying our commissioners are bad. I am just questioning if this was a correct move for the citizens of Dekalb County or a political agenda of another kind. Thank you District 2 Jeff Raider for taking a stand.

Anonymous said...

Sembler, nor any grossly over leveraged developer, should receive a handout or tax break from DeKalb County. I just drove through Buckhead and Midtown on errands this afternoon and there are many, many developments in similar hiatus. See also N. Druid Hills/Briarcliff project.

I agree this is PRIME real estate and someone will snatch it up, finish the project and it will generate tax dollars for the County. We can wait one year or more if needed.

If you feel the same, please write or email each member of the DeKalb Development Authority and the DeKalb County Commission and express your opinion. I am.

Ella Smith said...

Do not forget your board of education.

Ella Smith

Open+Transparent said...

When and where does the DeKalb Development Authority meet? Oh, their website doesn't say.

Who appointed each individual member? Oh, their website doesn't say.

How long is each member's term? Oh, their website doesn't say.

When do they meet and can the public attend? Oh, their website doesn't say.

What qualifications does each member have, and what are their "day jobs"? Oh, their website doesn't say.

How can one see their agenda and meeting minutes? Oh, their website doesn't say.

When they vote, are the votes recorded so the public is aware of how each board member voted? Oh, their website doesn't say.

How many projects are they currently involved in or are currently working on? Oh, their website doesn't say.

How many millions and millions of DeKalb County taxpayer dollars do they affect with their decisions? Oh, their website doesn't say.

Anonymous said...

“I think it would be a crime if this thing was left like it is,” Fuqua said, gesturing at the mostly brown picture.

Well, then sell the property, you big jerk.

Don't forget that Sembler consultant Angelo Fuster was also involved with various Vernon Jones election campaigns. Scumbags stick together.

Ella Smith said...

Open+Transparent, you are correct that their website does not say anything about when they meet or how they vote as they all are appointed positions so you have to hold the county commissioners responsible as they make the appointments.

It is a sad situation.

fedupindcss said...

If the AJC was correct (a stretch, I agree), then the Commission has sole authority to vote this up or down; under the new law, the DCSS Board would have a say, but this project appears grandfathered. So if that is the case, why does it matter to Gene to get the other Board members behind the tax break, if it is only the Commission?

Obviously any money made from the sales tax generated at stores there would be a wash with the tax break. But am I correct in thinking that, were the tax break granted, that DCSS would still get it's $$ from SPLOST, and the county gov't would be hurt by the loss of revenue from the break? Or does the tax break also "hurt" DCSS?

O&T: I know their website is info-deficient, but if I were to ask my commissioner those questions, would I get the answers?

Anonymous said...

I agree with Dan Magee. Any business venture includes at least some element of risk, and Sembler should not expect us to give them ANYTHING - let alone a $50,000,000 "gift" - in order to finish this project. If they can't do it on their own, then let the project die. Someone else wil surely pick up the pieces in short order.

And speaking of Sembler, what happened to their grandiose plans to redevelop the site of the now-closed Doraville GM plant?

themommy said...


There is a big difference between dollars generated by property taxes and those generated by SPLOST. This will not be a wash for DCSS.

SPLOST dollars can only be used for school construction type projects and other capital investment, not operations. Property tax revenue is used for operations.

This sets a hugely negative precedent. There are lots of half finished projects across DeKalb. Should every developer be able to get tax breaks?

Like these developers of much smaller projects, Sembler just needs to wait it out. Or sell it and move on.

Ella Smith said...

Some of us have been waiting for Sembler to possible ask for the political favor possible bought from Dr. Eugene Walker and by the tone of his comments in the paper I am wondering if this is it. He normally is so protective of the African American stakeholders but in this incident he seems his interests lie in an area which is not even in his school district. Now it definitely is in his other county commission appointed districts.

How could this be supported? It would be such a discriminatory move by Dekalb County.

Cerebration said...

If no other developer wants to take over the project, then the bank can take back the land as is being done all over the country. The latest trend is for the bank to demolish whatever is built there - it's more cost-effective than trying to finish a project. Ella's correct - it is unfair and the wrong message for our tax dollars (especially school tax dollars) to subsidize a high-end project in Buckhead. This property sits between Oglethorpe and the Capital City Club - across from the Brookhaven Marta station. It's prime real estate and should not need a TAD or any other government intervention to succeed.

No Duh said...

What a cesspool of people.

Excuse my ignorance, but I don't even see a need for a "Development Authority" -- I always thought our county commissioners were supposed to be the "development authority." In that, the commission decided what gets built, where, when and under what terms. Just what "authority" does the "development authority" have?

Anonymous said...

"How could this be supported? It would be such a discriminatory move by Dekalb County."

Since Dekalb is overwhelming non-white now, why would it be discriminatory to give support to a white-owned business?

I'm not saying that we should give them a tax break (I don't really think we should give anyone a tax break), but I think the time to discriminate in favor of any business based on the race of its owner has passed

fedupindcss said...

The General Assembly created development authorities by statute. You can find it in the GA Code, Title 36 Chap. 62. In 36-62-6 it sets out the actual powers of these county development authorities, and they are pretty vast. It also looks like the members of the authority elect their own chairperson, so if Walker is chair, he got that position from his fellow members. Once selected by the commission, the members serve four year terms. I am not sure when Walker's term was up, but if he was in the middle of it, the commission may not have had a choice in leaving him there.

Anonymous said...

Let's get Ella or Cere or Ernest Brown on the Development Authority!!!

Cerebration said...

This is the description from their own website -

Development Authorities, including the Development Authority of DeKalb County, were created by the Georgia General Assembly for the purpose of promoting trade, commerce, industry, and employment opportunities for the public good and to promote the general welfare of the State. Comprised of seven board members, this authority was established in 1974 to promote economic development within DeKalb. It assists in financing business facilities and equipment for job creation and expansion. The Authority may package bond financing for companies based on the type and number of jobs produced.

There are two types of bond issued by the Authority, Taxable and Tax-Exempt:

-Over $2 million
-Approved type of business (ex: manufacturing, office development) which will attract/retain jobs in the County

-Less than $10 million
-Manufacturing facility
-501©(3) organization

Schedule of Typical Taxable Bond Transaction

Determination to locate project in DeKalb County
Application to Authority for Inducement Resolution.
Meeting of Authority and passage of inducement Resolution.
Arrangement of financial terms between Borrower and Underwriter or L.O.C. (Letter of Credit) bank.
Circulation of first draft of documents.
Revision of documents.
Meeting of Authority and adoption of final bond Resolution.
Filing of validation proceeding.
Publication of first notice.
Publication of second notice.

No Duh said...

I guess my Civics is very weak. I truly thought the Chamber of Commerce "promot(ed) trade, commerce, industry, and employment opportunities for the public good and to promote the general welfare of the State." But, apparently, the Development Authority does that: "Comprised of seven board members, this authority was established in 1974 to promote economic development within DeKalb."

If you're interested, below came from the BOC website as their "Responsibilities."

The commission has the power and authority to fix and establish policies, rules and regulations governing all matters reserved to its jurisdiction by the DeKalb County Organizational Act. The following powers are granted to the Commission by Section 9 of the Organizational Act:

To levy taxes.
To make appropriations.
To fix the rates of all other charges.
To authorize the incurring of indebtedness.
To authorize work to be done where the cost is to be assessed against the benefited property and to fix the basis for such assessment.
To establish, alter, or abolish public roads, private ways, bridges and ferries.
To establish, abolish, or change election precincts and militia districts.
To allow the insolvent lists for the county.
To authorize the acceptance for the county of the provisions of any optional statute where the statute permits its acceptance by the governing authority of a county.
To regulate land use by the adoption of a comprehensive development plan and by the adoption of other planning and zoning ordinances which relate reasonably to the public health, safety, morality and general welfare of the county and its citizens; provided, however, no planning or zoning ordinance shall become law unless approved by the member of the commission representing the district in which the subject property is located, or by one (1) of the members of the commission elected from the county at large.
To create and change the boundaries of special taxing districts authorized by law.
To fix the bonds of county officers where same are not fixed by statute.
To enact any ordinances or other legislation the county has authority to enact.
To determine the priority of capital improvements.
To call elections for the voting of bonds.
Except as modified by the powers vested in the chief executive by other provisions of this act, to exercise the power and authority vested by law in the judge of the probate court when sitting for county purposes.
Except as modified by the powers vested in the chief executive by other provisions of this act, to exercise the powers now or hereafter vested in county governing authorities by the constitution and general laws of this state.
To fix, levy and assess business license fees.
To adopt rules regulating the operation of the commission.
To prepare an agenda for meetings of the commission.
Additionally, the commission may adopt all such ordinances or regulations as it may deem advisable, not in conflict with the general laws of this state and of the United States, for the governing and policing of the county for the purpose of protecting and preserving the health, safety, welfare, and morals of the citizens of the county and for the implementation and enforcement of the powers and duties of the commission. The commission is hereby authorized to adopt ordinances prescribing penalties and punishment for violation of any and all ordinances adopted by the commission to carry out any of the provisions of this section or other provisions of this Act or of any other law, except that in no event shall the maximum punishment exceed a fine of $1,000.00, imprisonment in the county jail for 30 days, or labor on the work gang for any single offense, or any combination thereof; provided, however, that for violations of a pretreatment standard or requirement adopted pursuant to the federal Clean Water Act the maximum fine shall be $1,000.00 per day for each violation by an industrial user."

SO, we elect the commissioners, who then outsource part of their jobs to the Development Authority (which the BOC selects), who then wine and dine the developers, who then funnel money to the Authority members, who then tell the Commissioners how to vote on landuse issues that "are good for the citizens," who then get left with unfinished projects and crooks for county officers, because the average voter reads a candidate's resume and thinks being on all these boards and such proves the candidate is an experienced leader!

Gene Walker is sucking from the teat of society -- shame on all of y'all who voted for him.

Anonymous said...

DeKalb County should not be in the business of bailing out failed real estate ventures. If a project cannot stand on its own merits, it should not be built.

Town Brookhaven is not so much "failed" as it is an unfortunate victim of poor timing. Note to Sembler: Shut it down now, and then restart it (or sell it) later when economic conditions are more favorable. Just keep your sticky fingers out of the DeKalb County cookie jar!

Ella Smith said...

This would be setting a legal precedence which could open up a can of worms for all kinds of legal actions to possible follow, IMO.

Unethically, IMO, of the individuals who took so much money from him during the campaign and who could vote for this to come to pass. Hopefully he will not vote.

Kim Gokce said...

Hey, this is a DeKalb Schools blog, right? Instead of a tax abatement, how about we let them default on the project and the mortgage and then have DCSS buy it on the cheap and build an "Arabia North" style campus there?

There are lots of nice places for folks in Brookhaven to shop and dine and there will be many more in the future developments at Brookhaven MARTA and along Buford Hwy grey field redevelopment. These developments will take time but I guarantee that in less than 20 years there will be plenty commercial tax base in our area of DeKalb.

I vote for "School Brookhaven," not "Town Brookhaven." :)

Kim Gokce said...

ooohhhh! I just had a tantalizing recollection ... anyone want to guess what the street name is that Town Brookhaven straddles and that was the site of the former Peachtree Garden Apts? That's right ... Cross Keys Drive!!!!

It was meant to be ... lol.

Anonymous said...

Dear Burrell Ellis and Eugene Walker:

My mutual funds portfolio lost value last year. To help me out, will you please, please let me not have to pay any property taxes until 2029? At today's rates, that's only about $80,000 that will remain in my pocket, and I'm sure my tax-paying neighbors won't mind.

Your Ever-Faithful Supporter

Anonymous said...

No support anywhere for Sembler:

fedupindcss said...

I pulled the following off the Decatur Metro blog comments: "Ellis missed a major opportunity earlier this year when he didn’t replace Gene Walker, the chair of the authority, when his term expired. He should have installed someone with sound judgement or at least someone Ellis could influence." The point made by this commenter was that the DDA members now are all Vernon holdovers.

So Ellis had the opportunity to get rid of Walker, and not have him in a position of conflict of interest, but did not do it. Sad and strange, but not too shocking. However, his poor judgment here impacts not only county politics but the school system, too.

Cerebration said...

Um. Bad News.

These are entries from Burrell Ellis' March 08 Campaign Contribution Disclosure Statement

Betty Sembler $2300
R. Shereen Fuqua $2300
Eliz Sembler $2300
Jeff Fuqua $1300
Greg Sembler $1300

To download all reports - go here

Kim Gokce said...

@Cerebration: Do you believe that a $10,000 contribution to a campaign can get you $50,000,000 in tax breaks? If so, I'm going to start saving for the next election tomorrow.

Seriously, I get the fact that one could look at any support from Ellis of Sembler's request as a quid pro quo. But, really? Seems pretty cheap to me ...

Cerebration said...

No argument there. Who's to say how much money it takes to influence someone. $10,000 may not do it. Although, those are the contributions just from that one statement.

I've found that Sembler has donated to Burrell Ellis, Eugene Walker, and Elaine Boyer's cheerleaders as well as a big donation to the local school near his proposed development. Nice guy or influence peddler? Maybe some of both.

Just sharing what I find - would you rather not know?

Cerebration said...

For example, you can track Sembler donations back a few years. Here's a quote from a Sept 2007 AJC article on the subject of the Druid HIlls Property.

At a community meeting in July that became an anti-Sembler rally, critics noted that the company had contributed thousands of dollars toward the U.S. Senate campaign of county Chief Executive Officer Vernon Jones. A review of Jones' campaign contribution reports shows $18,400 from Sembler officials and their family members. A spokesman for Jones' Senate campaign did not respond to a request for comment.

Last year, Sembler gave nearly $8,000 to the political campaigns of two commissioners, including Jeff Rader. When he was running for the seat he now occupies, Rader received six contributions totaling $3,750 from Sembler officials and lobbyists.

As one of two commissioners representing the affected area, Rader would hold a crucial vote on any rezoning request. Either he or Gannon would have to vote for a Sembler rezoning for it to pass. Passage also would require the support of a majority of the seven-member County Commission. Records show the commission's presiding officer, Burrell Ellis, received four $1,000 contributions last year from Sembler executives and the Sembler family trust.

"The concern is that the elected officials are going to be influenced, " said Alan Abramowitz, a DeKalb resident opposed to the Sembler project. Abramowitz, who teaches political science at Emory University, said campaign contributions are not unethical, but they could influence where an official chooses to focus time.

Sembler and the recipients of the company's largesse say the contributions won't alter the outcome in this case.

"The key is you don't make a promise in exchange for that contribution, " Ellis said. He's never "sold my vote" for campaign money, he said.

Rader said a contribution doesn't make him a "zombie" on an issue --- that he would vote in the community's interest.

Anonymous said...

Sembler consultant/Vernon Jones BFF Angelo Fuster is also likely funneling contributions to Gene Walker and other county elected officials through other people associated with the Sembler company. We know about campaign contributions from the Sembler family and Fuqua, but there's more from people not easily linked to Mel Sembler.

Here's another funny point. Mel Sembler is one of the biggest Republican contributors in America. The only place he, his family and his homies give money to is DeKalb County, GA.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, typo:

The only place he, his family and his homies give money to Democrats is in DeKalb County, GA.

Ella Smith said...

I thought I had heard that Ellis had got big contributions also. How interesting?

Kim, I would love to see an Arabia North. This would be for the kids and the community and not for individuals. Great idea.

Hopefully they will say no.

Ella Smith

Cerebration said...

Tucker is supposedly Arabia North... it is supposed to have almost the same plan, according to a post here a while ago by psc. But some kind of really interesting - really different -high school campus would be great in Brookhaven - especially since it is so accessible to Marta.

How about a HS of Science and Technology? Or healthcare/public health -- I see that GA has been given millions for AIDS research.

Cerebration said...

I mean, this is a very interesting line of thinking - Kim you may have hit on something. IF we are going to float $52 million to this project - the least we should get in exchange is a plot of land to build a new, innovative, interesting high school for students with high tech interests to gravitate to. All we would need would be maybe 20 acres... unless - we built it as a 3-5 story school.

This could be cutting edge!

Kim Gokce said...

@Cerebration: "Just sharing what I find - would you rather not know?"

The information is fantastic to know and I appreciate your uncanny ability to put your fingers on data. I simply don't want to say that there is a quid pro quo for votes when businesses contribute.

Looking at the list of contributors, it is dominated by businesses it seems. Surely businesses want to help elect politicians that they deem as "business friendly." This seems natural to me and does not raise alarms.

Notwithstanding this thinking, I seriously question the argument about Town Brookhaven and "what is the in the best interest of DeKalb taxpayers."

On the one hand, businesses like to do businesses where they get the most advantages - whether it is labor cost, transportation cost, etc. and yes, tax expenses. On the other hand, every municipality can't always compete for every project or business interest nor should they.

The important questions for this project were answered some time ago - is DeKalb development friendly? Yes. Is DeKalb willing to incent Sembler to undertake large-scale mixed-use projects? Yes. Is Sembler willing to spread money around to raise its profile in the community and win over "friends?" Yes.

Because of all of the above, we now have a 50% complete Town Brookhaven. The question today is whether it is in the best interest of DeKalb County and its citizens to "double-down" on the project to see it finished as constituted by Sembler.

I have to say that instinctively I say "no." I don't believe it will have significant impact on long-term employment nor on the general economy of DeKalb if the "Town" stalls and becomes "Construction Site - Brookhaven" for a few years.

However, I do not want to go so far as to say that Sembler has bought the Commission or the CEO. I would hope we would hear some very compelling arguments from anyone who intends to extend the taxpayers generosity farther into this project. Otherwise, I remain unconvinced.

(gosh, i'm long-winded when I get going ...)

Kim Gokce said...

"IF we are going to float $52 million to this project - the least we should get in exchange is a plot of land to build a new, innovative, interesting high school for students with high tech interests to gravitate to"

Yes, that is my point. If someone want to ask me for 52 big ones, I want it spent on a school that will rock the socks off of north DeKalb for decades to come - now that is an investment I know will pay returns.

Sadly, I think the BoE is always planning by looking in the rear view mirror. They seemed convinced that they'll be no children in North DeKalb in a few years. Sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy in my opinion. Every day, parents I know in North DeKalb are deciding to move out of County to find public schools and parks for their kids. It's really irritating me to no end and I can't seem to get anyone to recognize that we are doing it to ourselves.

themommy said...

First, a big fat NO to Sembler. This was not an area that needed tax abatements for redevelopment. This was prime real estate ready for the creep of redevelopment up Peachtree/P'tree Industrial. Then the economy slowed. When it recovers, so will development. Sembler can wait -- we can wait.

We need to be careful that we don't let the current economic conditions lead us to poor decision making. Frankly, the same thing goes for TADs in places like Buford Highway. The area's proximity to Buckhead/midtown etc make it ripe for redevelopment. It will happen.

Second, Dr. Lewis never said that he thought growth in N. DeKalb wasn't going to happen. In fact, he and his staff have repeatedly said recently that the high growth areas in DCSS are in N. DeKalb.

What they did say,in fact, was that the changes that are proposed within the Cross Keys district could have a huge immediate impact on enrollment at CK high school, and its feeders. While there are lots of families likes yours, Kim, with young children waiting to see what happens with the public schools in the areas, there probably aren't more than a couple hundred homeowners with high school age children.

The system's dilemma, and frankly mine, is what do you do about/for a community that is not quite in full transistion but may be soon. Transistions take time and he his (rightly) I believe concerned about investing a ton of capital in a high school that could be significantly underenrolled in a few years. They have no choice to proceed with the project because the condition of CK high school is so poor-- but what happens if in the next few years hundreds of children disappear?

It may not always be underenrolled. In fact, I think revitilizing the schools in the CK district will further enhance the community and speed neighborhood improvements. That said, as old apartment buildings go down, even if replaced by new ones, the amount of children will decrease, maybe dramatically.

Within my own school district, we have had two old, slum like, complexes torn down. Between them, at their peak, they had around 110 children attending one elementary school. When they were torn down, the families scattered and most left the area. This was the cheapest housing in the community so they had to move to find a similar price point. One complex was replaced with town homes and sends perhaps a handful of children, the other is currently a blue pipe field...

It is a complex issue to plan for and DCSS isn't good at planning even in non complex situations. It is a challenge.

Kim Gokce said...

@themommy: "This was prime real estate ready for the creep of redevelopment up Peachtree/P'tree Industrial. Then the economy slowed. When it recovers, so will development. Sembler can wait -- we can wait."

I think you have summed it up pretty well. I'll go farther - I think that stretch of Peachtree has very, very few parcels of any significant size for redevelopment besides the MARTA property. Remember, heavy rail and MARTA bound the south side of Peachtree all the way to Chamblee. The north side is heavily residential but for very narrow strips. It may be that residential is rolled up but it's hard to imagine communities like Historic Brookhaven, Oglethorpe, etc. being gobbled up in my lifetime.

Kim Gokce said...

@themommy: "... I think revitilizing the schools in the CK district will further enhance the community and speed neighborhood improvements. That said, as old apartment buildings go down, even if replaced by new ones, the amount of children will decrease, maybe dramatically."

That is why redevelopment must be accompanied by attendance line changes and redistricting. The circumstances that leave CK vulnerable were created by DCSS decisions or non-decisions during the past 20 years.

"Transistions take time and he his (rightly) I believe concerned about investing a ton of capital in a high school that could be significantly underenrolled in a few years."

$20 million is not a ton of capital? We should be making investments today for what we will need in 5, 10, 20 years, not to appease current critics. As you say, Dr. Lewis said the biggest growth is in the "north." I believe he was referring to Dunwoody in that meeting, not Cross Keys.

Cross Keys is already under-enrolled before the imagined redevelopment of Buford Hwy! It's barely at 50-60%! DCSS is 100% responsible for the depopulation of Cross Keys. During the past tens years, redistricting has accounted for at least 470 students being moved out of the feeder pattern. How is DCSS a victim in this scenario?

DCSS has "planned" their way into a problem with Cross Keys and will never convince me that they are simply trying to react to realities they cannot affect.

"While there are lots of families likes yours, Kim, with young children waiting to see what happens with the public schools in the areas, there probably aren't more than a couple hundred homeowners with high school age children."

That is because these families have either been a) Redistricted to Chamblee, or b) Have moved into Chamblee/Dunwoody feeder neighborhoods. Is it possible this is why these schools are growing or over capacity??!!

During the past 2 years over 20 children have left my little neighborhood of 213 homes. There are lots of little ones coming up here still - where are they going to go to school if not Woodward/Sequoyah/CK???

Have you driven by Our Lady of Assumption, Immaculate Heart, or St. Martin's at school time? These schools are expanding and investing in our area.

This is a chicken and egg argument and if you trace it carefully, DCSS IS THE CHICKEN! Pun intended ...

The private schools should send checks to DCSS for generating so much demand for their services in my area.

There are many, many families with children in my area. But, many, if not most, are at Church schools in pre-K, and K, and the older children are transfers to Montgomery, Ashford Park or elsewhere or, they are at OLA or IMH or St. Martin's.

The "data driven" DCSS needs to expand the data sets they look at and add wisdom to make good long-term decisions ... and please stop the hand-wringing!

I am waiting to see with the plans for consolidations and attendance what we'll end up with - we'll see. I am cautiously pessimistic ...

Cerebration said...

Just to clarify what Dr. Lewis means when he says growth is expected in the north. Below is a quote from the McKibbon Demographic Research Co, hired by the district to predict enrollment.

High School Attendance Areas

“By the early to mid part of the next decade the high school enrollment for the district is projected to be approximately 4,500 students above instructional capacity. To remedy this situation the district should strongly consider building new high school facilities and /or expanding several of the current high school buildings where land and logistics permit. The area with the greatest need for this expanded capacity is the east/east central section of the district and the north/ north east (Dunwoody-Tucker-Lakeside) region.”

However, as I've pointed out before, our Board disregarded this data (choosing instead to react to the subdivision development they saw visually in South DK) and built high schools in South DeKalb. Arabia is the 4th high school built in that area in recent years. Now, as I reported here before, we have an ABUNDANCE of available high school seats (ironically, about 4,500) but they are all in South DK, with some at Cross Keys.

The new board has finally seen the error of their ways and have decided to renovate and enlarge Lakeside rather than just the planned auditorium/career-tech addition. Of course, they have also rebuilt Tucker and done renovations to Druid Hills. I'm not sure what is planned for Cross Keys and Dunwoody, but they have approved budget for both. Sadly, we are far behind the 8 ball though, and students up here have had to endure over-crowding, while the lovely new Arabia will echo this fall due to severe under-enrollment.

So - why on earth would Gene Walker, who has a sworn duty to support the schools - vote (in his other job) to move school taxes to a private developer? We have so much work to do - not only in construction, which uses SPLOST $ but academically, using school tax on property. We can't let any school tax whatsoever slip from our hands.

Plus -- I will guarantee an uproar from South DeKalb when they learn we are basically subsidizing a development that is practically in Buckhead.

Cerebration said...

"A couple of buildings are up, but last week, [Sembler President Jeff] Fuqua said nothing else will rise on the site unless taxpayers subsidize the project. He showed officials an aerial photograph of the site. They saw two mid-rise residential towers surrounded by dirt."

It's nowhere near 50% complete. I'd be surprised if it's 20% finished. (They don't say if the 2 buildings are completed on the interior.) If we float the $52 million, who's to say that Sembler will be able to finish it? Seems risky - like we could be investing in a sinking ship.

Cerebration said...

Kim, you make such great points about Cross Keys. I think CK may benefit from being completely re-fashioned into the kind of school I suggested above ( a new, innovative, interesting high school for students with high tech interests to gravitate to).

With the flexibility in transfers due to the passage of HB 251, we should expand our thinking. Why would students travel cross-county to get to a school that is virtually the same as their home high school? But - what if we offered something very different, hands-on, career-oriented? It could serve the CK feeder area, but accept transfers countywide. (CK district students are also going to be able to transfer to any school of their choosing - with room.) The benefits we have near CK is its central location and access to Marta. It's very difficult to get to Arabia without a car - but a new CK would be accessible to all.

Anonymous said...

Son of awcomeonnow posting.
The property in question doesn't have to be left as a mound of dirt. There's county ordinances
to control soil erosion already on the books. They require property that's bare to be hydroseeded (for grass).
Sometimes the county has to be leaned on to enforce their own ordinances, particularly if the property owner is well connected.
South Tucker found this out a few years back when 45 acres next to Peachtree Creek was left bare for over a year, silting up the creek. The property owner was Robert Lanier, developer and former county comissioner.
Eventually, the property was hydroseeded. Nearby residents were
much happier when they didn't have to look out their back window onto
a large field of bare dirt.
These same ordinances need to be utilized at the Brookhaven development. Sembler shouldn't be allowed to hold an area's appearance hostage so that he can get an (undeserved) tax break.

Anonymous said...

"The new board has finally seen the error of their ways and have decided to renovate and enlarge Lakeside rather than just the planned auditorium/career-tech addition."

I'm pretty sure the Lakeside money was solely for an addition, not any renovation to the existing facility. It would be big money to renovate the existing behemoth.

Anonymous said...

jodynroy posting
A few comments on the posts I've read:
1) The Development Authority meets on Tuesday mornings at 7:30 a.m. - they "discussed" this at last week's meeting (may 12) but I couldn't make it and don't know what was said. I know Mike Jacobs - who is really railing on this - was hoping to attend
2) for more history and info on this, I suggest asking Mike Jacobs what we need to do. I'm pretty sure that currently, the Development Authority can vote for this without any other level of approval. Mike is suing them, as a citizen, on another similar issue and he floated legislation to stop this type of abuse of power in the future, but I don't think this particular decision can be stopped, if the DA votes for it.
3) From AJC: "At Town Brookhaven, Fuqua is asking for a 100 percent property tax abatement for 20 years on about half the site. It’s an unusual request in DeKalb. Partial 10-year abatements, like the deal Sembler already has on the site, are more common. Under the existing agreement, which Sembler hopes to replace with this new proposal, the company would pay an increasing percentage of its tax until the abatement expired"
What I do not know yet is - is the $52 million in ADDITION to the already granted abatements?
4) Mike Jacobs raised this issue (and Dan Weber concurred with his outrage) at their Town Hall meeting at Oglethorpe in late April. Kim was there and was more familiar with issue, so maybe he understands more what we can do as individuals to stop it.
5)At the meeting, Mike and the editors of Dunwoody Crier had some sort of exchange. Apparently, the Crier is tracking this carefully, tried to get some of the documents through the freedom of information act and there is VERY LITTLE documentation on the issue - all the discussions are going on "quietly"
6) at least a dozen developers are hoping this deal will go through b/c they're standing in line behind Sembler, hats in hand
7) Sembler has been VERY successful at what they do. In spite of a down economy, the company is not down. It's privately held, but if you go to their website, they talk about themselves as good decision makers, with success at all their projects.
Even if Town Brookhaven did go bust, it won't break them. What's going bust is the environment around that mud-project. They need to be made to take care of the current situation right away.
Instead of screaming htey cannot complete it, they need to do what every other business does when they don't have a chance for handouts: Scale back the project, finish what you can, set the rest of the area aside for future development. 10 or even 5 years from now, Sembler will be it's same old successful self, with added bonus of increased income from this project b/c they won't have to do what every business should and pay their taxes. It's abhorrent.
AJC said clearly that the tax revenues Sembler probably overstated the amount of revenues the county will get when the project is finished - once again, proving that they are less than ethical to do whatever will benefit them.
I hope everyone who shares my outrage will go after the Development Authority and stay on top of them NOT to let this go through. At the minimum, we need to make sure that - if they do this - that the amoung gets reduced.

Open+Transparent said...

That was a great post, jodynroy.

Cerebration said...

A community meeting in opposition to the proposed Sembler tax abatement is set for

Monday, June 8, at 7:00 p.m.
in the Fellowship Hall of
Chamblee United Methodist Church
on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.

We will explain the mechanics of the abatement to the community and discuss ways to fight it.

John Woodham, the lawyer who represents the Fulton County Taxpayers Foundation and brought the lawsuit challenging similar tax abatements in Fulton County, has agreed to speak. He is not available on June 1, (the original meeting date).


Mike Jacobs

State Representative

District 80, DeKalb County

3823 Granger Drive

Atlanta, GA 30341

(404) 441-0583

Unknown said...

Thank you everyone for all the great information. I agree Sembler should not get a dime.
Kim is right about families looking to OLA, St Martin, IHM, etc. I was one of them.

Anonymous said...

BOC Presiding Chair Larry Johnson likes getting Sembler donations. He also likes double-dipping on the taxpayer dime:

Anonymous said...

Well I have had a frustrating experience trying to contact the members of the Development Authority to tell them that this taxpayer is not interested in bailing out Sembler.

It seems that the ONLY email contact on their webpage is disconnected!

So I spent some time looking up our public servants. Here is what I found:

Chairman Walker, well we know his history and financial connections to Sembler.

Judy Turner, CEO of Decatur First Bank

Ed McBrayer, Exec. Director of PATH (i.e. of trail building fame)

Dr. Delores Aldridge, Emory prof

Michael D. Williams, was with Countrywide mortgage which tanked and is now owned by Bank of America

Vaughn D. Irons, was Director of Expanding Markets for Freddie Mac (that hasn't gone so well)

Dr. William Flippen, pastor of The Greater Piney Grove Baptist Church

The attorney for the authority is Greg Worthy with Powell Goldstein.

The only email addresses I could dig up are:

If anyone knows how to get in touch with this shadowy group, please post it.

Ella Smith said...

The commissioners need to all be emailed.

Anonymous said...

son of awcomeonnow posting.
Greg Worthy is another left over Vernon acolyte. He's also on the Dekalb Housing Authority. So's
Judy Turner. Ah, Decatur!!!! The town where everybody's somebody- as long as their on a bond issuing authority. (Sorry for borrowing your motto, Snellville).

Cerebration said...

The Biggest Bailout Sembler Can Buy

The proposed Sembler tax abatement for its "Town Brookhaven" project needs to be stopped.

One thing you can do to stand in its way is to attend an upcoming community meeting to be held on Monday, June 8, at 7:00 p.m. in the Fellowship Hall of Chamblee United Methodist Church, 4147 Chamblee Dunwoody Road.

Attendance at this meeting should not be limited to those who live in the immediate vicinity of the Town Brookhaven project. Citizens across DeKalb County should be concerned about the proposal. Here's why:

The deal Sembler is seeking is known as a PILOT bond deal. PILOT is short for "payments in lieu of taxes." In this deal, Sembler will convey to the Dev. Authority ownership of large portions of its mixed-use Town Brookhaven project. The Authority will float bonds to finish construction of the project. They also will lease the project back to Sembler, who will make rent payments to the Authority sufficient to repay the principal and interest on the bonds. Bond funds also could be used to refinance Sembler's existing loans for the project at a more favorable interest rate.

Dev. Authority bond deals must be confirmed in DK Superior Court. Sembler and the Dev. Authority already have obtained Court approval for a smaller PILOT bond deal. That deal was rushed through the Court between Christmas and New Year's. Sembler now wants a bigger tax abatement and is seeking to abandon its earlier, less lucrative deal.

This PILOT bond deal results in a property tax abatement because the Dev. Authority, a government entity, will own the property and therefore the property cannot be taxed. The value of this tax abatement is estimated to be $51 million over 20 years.

The direct costs of educating the children who will live in Town Brookhaven and providing county services to the project will be borne by families and small businesses across DeKalb, the same families and small businesses who are struggling to make ends meet in this tough economy.

By contrast, Sembler may no longer be subject to the risks of doing business in a tough economy. As a result of Sembler's proposed PILOT deal with the Dev. Authority, those risks could be transferred to the public.

The Town Brookhaven project isn't owned by Sembler Co. It's actually owned by a "bankruptcy-remote" entity known as Sembler Bell Brookhaven, LLC. The sole purpose of which is to develop and operate Town Brookhaven. It doesn't own any other property.

If the commercial real estate market remains bad and Town Brookhaven flops, Sembler Bell Brookhaven, LLC could file for bankruptcy, which would leave the Dev. Authority the owner of a failed project.

There’s also the ethical dilemma of Dr. Eugene Walker, who serves in dual roles as the Chair of the Dev. Authority and a member of the DeKalb Co Board of Education. He was elected to the Board in Dec, 2008 with the help of $18,000 in campaign contributions from Sembler executives, employees, and their spouses.

In a recent Crier article, Dr. Walker credited his "platform of economic development" for carrying him to victory in his BOE campaign. In the same vein, I suppose he might explain the $18,000 as Florida-based Sembler's way of showing special concern for the children of DeKalb County.

Unlike the other members of the Dev. Authority, who get to vote to sock the taxpayers with Sembler's $51 million tax bill without having been elected to anything, Dr. Walker is now an elected member of the BOE who should hear directly from DeKalb voters.

Other developers are waiting in line behind Sembler to secure their own tax abatements from the Development Authority. If Sembler succeeds, the floodgates will be open.

Somebody will have to pay for the services consumed by the new projects. You and I are those somebodies.

I hope to see you on June 8th.

Rep. Mike Jacobs

Dekalbparent said...

StandUp DeKalb (remember them from Sembler/Briarcliff?) is still very much alive and kicking, it appears. They will be at the meeting at Chamblee United Methodist on June 8, and they will have an ample supply of yard signs, so stop by and pick one up.

Anonymous said...

I will be out of town... If you could let me know where I could pick one up in the meantime that would be awesome.

Ella Smith said...

I also want a yard sign.

Dekalbparent said...

@Annon and Ella

You can log on to their website

or email

to get a sign and/or t-shirt