Dawson County debates $500K expense for developer’s road
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By JIM WALLS
Nov. 5, 2015 — Dawson County officials will consider tonight whether to write a $500,000 check to partially cover a developer’s costs for road improvements — a proposal that detractors describe as an unwarranted giveaway of taxpayer dollars.
(UPDATE: The commission took no action on the road project Thursday evening after a motion to approve it failed to get a second. More to come.)
Public officials generally justify such expenditures as investments that generate jobs and tax revenue for their communities. Critics, meanwhile, question such outlays as examples of crony capitalism that cast government in the role of deciding which private enterprises will benefit from public funds.
In Dawson County, though, officials are couching the expense, in part, as a legal obligation incurred once the county signed off in July on the site plan for Dawson Marketplace, a 425,000-square-foot planned retail center.
Opponents contend county regulations require Parker Blanchard, the Atlanta-based developer, to bear the entire $1.5 million cost.
The commissioners “are going to bankrupt the county,” said Hugh Stowers, a retired electrical engineer and lifelong Dawson resident. “Are they personally going to be liable for people … demanding the same treatment this developer is getting?”
Opponents believe commission Chairman Mike Berg has already committed the county to bear $500,000 of the road costs without consulting other commissioners.
In an Aug. 30 email, Berg wrote that he’d told Blanchard that the county would pay for safety improvements, assuming an estimated cost of $514,000, required to handle increased traffic on Gordon Moss Road. “Budget money is not available,” he wrote, “so the money for this improvement will come from SPLOST [sales tax] dollars.”
Berg, in an interview Wednesday, said his message should have noted that the payment was subject to the full commission’s approval. The email was sent to Charlie Auvermann, director of the Dawson County Development Authority, and several county staffers but not county commissioners.
The money would help pay for widening, paving and relocating a 2,000-foot dirt road that runs through the middle of the planned Dawson Marketplace retail center. The site backs up to Ga. 400 about 50 miles north of downtown Atlanta.
County attorney Joey Homans said the county, once it approved partial relocation of Gordon Moss Road, needed to figure out how to fulfill its obligation to make sure the road would be safe.
The county’s proposed share of the cost was determined, Homans said, by cost estimates showing improving the road to county standards would cost $514,000.
“If you’re going to pay $500,000 anyway, why not pay $500,000 and get a million-and-a-half road?” he said.
After the commission rezoned Blanchard’s site last year, county officials reportedly planned to seek outside funding for needed public improvements. In its Sept. 24, 2014 edition, the Dawson Community News reported:
“The authority, along with the county, is seeking grants intended to fund improvements, such as roads, sewer and broadband capabilities, at the site between Carlisle and Dawson Forest roads.”
It’s unclear what came of those efforts.
Longtime Atlanta developer John A. Williams, CEO of Preferred Apartment Communities Inc. and formerly of Post Properties Inc., appears to have a hand in the Dawson project. Property records show title to the site was transferred Aug. 14 to Hendon-BRE Dawson Marketplace LLC. On the same day, SEC filings show, Hendon-BRE gave a $6.55 million promissory note to PAC Dawson Lending, a subsidiary of Preferred Apartment Communities.
The Sembler Company planned a retail center of similar size on the site before losing the property to foreclosure in 2010. After that, brokers marketed the property as part of the next big wave of rapid development on the outskirts of metro Atlanta.