A luxury apartment project at 99 West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead will receive a 10-year tax incentive valued at $3.35 million from the Development Authority of Fulton County, in a deal that includes “affordable” units that apparently could apply to a single person making nearly $120,000 a year.

Tom Tidwell, a Buckhead resident who recently joined the Development Authority board, was one of two votes against the incentive deal as it passed June 25. He declined to comment directly about his vote, but provided a copy of a letter he later sent to fellow board members arguing that they should not be providing incentives to residential or hotel projects or anywhere in Buckhead. He also questioned such impacts as increased traffic.

An illustration of the 99 West Paces Ferry Road project as presented for design review in 2018. (Special)

“I am a firm believer in the free market, as I suspect some of my conservative colleagues are,” Tidwell wrote in the July 23 letter. “If there is sufficient demand for a hotel or housing, then someone will build it regardless of whether they receive a tax incentive. If they can’t build it without a tax incentive, then the market is saying there isn’t sufficient demand for that product.”

Tidwell, a former chair of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods, also wrote that “Buckhead, Midtown and areas near the Beltline are the hottest real estate markets in the county, probably in the state. I am pretty sure we do not need to ‘stimulate’ economic development in those areas.”

The 99 West Paces project is planned by JLB Partners and involves a two-phase, mixed-use tower replacing various commercial buildings and residential properties. The final product includes 485 residential units, 13,500 square feet of retail space, and two parking decks with a total of 750 spaces.

Jessica Hill, an attorney who represented JLB in the zoning phase, said she was not involved in the tax incentive deal. She referred questions to JLB’s Matt Hallman, who did not respond.

The Development Authority paperwork describes the 99 West Paces site, in the heart of Buckhead, as “underperforming parcels.” The deal involves the county issuing bonds and technically owning the property and leasing it back to the developer. The deal approves a $271 million bond issuance that is estimated to provide JLB a tax savings of $3,355,560 over 10 years.

The project is estimated to create 100 temporary construction jobs and 60 permanent full-time jobs.

The project has been in the planning stages for over three years and predates the city’s BeltLine-area inclusionary zoning policy, which requires a certain percentage of multifamily units be priced at rates affordable to middle-income households. However, JLB is “voluntarily” pledging to attempt to make 10% of the total units “workforce housing,” a general term for middle-income housing. The deal defines that housing as 130% to 150% of the area median income for a household of four people.

The area cited in the deal appears to use outdated U.S. Census terminology. Al Nash, the Development Authority’s executive director, clarified that the intended AMI is that of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell statistical area, and currently amounts to $79,700. The proposed rates of 130% to 150% equates to an annual household income of $103,610 to $119,500.

While the calculation is based on a household of four, Nash added, “For purposes of clarification, any such proposed tenant does not have to be a family of four. That is just the income level that is being utilized for the commitment.”

And while the project is proposed as having three-bedroom units on every floor, nothing in the deal commits JLB to applying the “workforce housing” element to those rather than the one- or two-bedroom units.

Nothing in the deal commits JLB to pricing the units that way at all, instead saying the company “has agreed to use its best efforts to integrate” the workforce housing into the mix.

Nash did not directly respond to questions about why the four-person household was chosen as the income standard and how renting to smaller, higher-income households would meet workforce housing goals.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.