DeKalb County’s government and school district will be allowed to argue against Brookhaven’s controversial Dresden Village tax abatement in a Dec. 1 court hearing, a judge has ruled.
The mixed-use development would be on a 4-acre lot on Dresden Drive near Caldwell Road. The Brookhaven Development Authority approved a tax break worth up to $13.5 million over a 22-year period to the project, which was nicknamed “Project X,” in an Aug. 12 meeting. The tax break has to be approved by the court in a bond validation hearing before it goes into effect.
The tax break has strained the city’s relationship with the county and drawn criticism from some residents as unnecessary and lacking transparency. Connolly Investment & Development, the project developer, says the tax break is needed because the development would include streetscape and traffic changes.
The county and the DeKalb County School District consider the project a drain on their tax base and filed motions to intervene in the court proceedings. On Oct. 7, DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Stacey Hydrick granted those motions and set the bond validation hearing to start Dec. 1. The county, school district and development authority will now go into discovery, meaning an evidence-gathering phase.
Catherine Bernard, a Brookhaven resident and attorney, also sought to intervene in opposition to the tax break. Hydrick rejected Bernard’s motion, saying she did not follow correct procedures.
The county, represented by attorney Patrick Jaugstetter, and the school district, represented by attorney Todd Hatcher, both argued they had “an interest in the proceedings” because the tax break would also affect their revenue stream, and therefore they have a right to intervene.
The county and school district claim the development authority’s valuation of the development is invalid because it was done without consulting the county Board of Assessors. Because of that, they claim, the court also cannot approve the bonds because confirming such a valuation is an overstep of its power.
The county and school district also claim the development authority violated the state Open Meetings Act because it passed the tax break “under a veil of secrecy,” according to the county’s brief. The county called the Aug. 12 development authority meeting agenda “grossly deficient” because it only referred to the development as “Project X.”
Attorney Chris Balch, who represents the city and the development authority, argued that the county and school district couldn’t intervene because they were not residents of the city.