The Dunwoody Development Authority has approved a roughly $19 million tax break for the first phase of the multi-use High Street development. The tax abatement includes the development’s apartments, despite a previous arrangement leaving them out. 

The High Street development would be built on about 36 acres at the northwest intersection of Perimeter Center Parkway and Hammond Drive. The multi-use development would include 150,000 square feet of retail, 40,000 square feet of new office space and 598 apartments, according to its website. 

A conceptual illustration of part of the High Street project as presented in 2019.

Approval for the tax abatement was not unanimous. Member Greg Killeen was the lone vote against the tax break. In 2019, the developer — GID Development Group — originally requested a tax break schedule where roughly 50% of their taxes would be reduced over a 10-year period, according to Killeen. That tax break did not include apartments. 

Jeff Ackemann, vice chair of the Development Authority, pointed to the changing construction landscape when asked why the authority granted the abatement. 

“The world has changed since the time we initially started talking to GID about High Street,” said Ackemann in an email. “Retail as we know it, construction costs, the viability of office space, where and how we’re going to live in the future have changed. High Street’s latest proposal reflects those new realities. As a development authority, we concluded this was the kind of developer and the kind of transformational development that we could and should support.”

At a Jan. 21 meeting, GID requested a 75% tax abatement schedule over 10 years, including the apartments, amounting to about $25 million. While the development authority deemed that amount too high, they did approve the 50% schedule with apartments. 

Killeen said he was concerned with the new arrangement’s inclusion of the apartments, which took up the majority of the square-footage and could bring in a significant number of new residents.

“If they’re going to be using our city services, then they should pay taxes,” Killeen said. 

Killeen said he was concerned about overcrowding in Dunwoody, specifically in the city’s schools.

“There’s a lot of overcrowding in the schools,” he said. “And as apartments are being built in Dunwoody and Chamblee … there are some [new] elementary schools, but they’re especially not keeping up with it at the high schools.”

The DeKalb County School District does not have a seat at the table when it comes to tax abatements, despite property taxes making up a significant portion of their funding. Recent legislation introduced by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) would give school districts more say in the tax abatement process. 

“If they’re going to be using our city services, then they should pay taxes.”

Dunwoody Development Authority board member Greg Killeen

“Along with other mayors in DeKalb County, we have begun to work with DeKalb County School Board members and DeKalb County commissioners to develop a strategy around abatements,” said Mayor Lynn Deutsch in an emailed statement. 

Ackemann said in an email that 75% of the multi-family housing planned in the development includes one-bedroom and studio units.

“In looking at the totality of the project, the likelihood it would stress our school system is low,” he said. 

Killeen also cited concerns about the effect the new development may have on other retail in the area. Phase One of the project consists of about 175,000 square feet of retail space, and Perimeter Mall is less than a half-mile away. 

Killeen cited Avalon, a mixed-use development in Alpharetta, which he said hurt retail in the surrounding area. Avalon sits just two miles away from North Point Mall.

The developer for Avalon, North American Properties, teamed up with GID on the High Street Development project in 2018, but left the project in 2019. 

“There’s only so many retail dollars that are going to be spent in a community,” Killeen said. “I’m concerned about what it potentially could do to Perimeter Mall.” 

The issue of apartments at the High Street development dates back to before Dunwoody became a city, almost 15 years ago. The development was originally approved for zoning by DeKalb county in 2007 — a year before Dunwoody officially incorporated. In that same year, the Dunwoody Homeowners Association signed an agreement with GID that included zoning conditions to be part of the approval process in DeKalb County. 

“As a development authority, we concluded this was the kind of developer and the kind of transformational development that we could and should support.”

Jeff Ackemann, vice chair of the Dunwoody Development Authority

Bill Grossman, who was the secretary of the DHA at the time, said that when the DHA was first approached by GID about High Street, they asked for 4,800 rental apartments. 

“We negotiated that number down and ended up finalizing at 1,500 condos, which was our preference, and 1,500 apartments, which was their preference,” he said. 

The DHA was formed in the 1970s to stop apartments from going into Dunwoody Village, according to Grossman. He said GID has not violated the contract to his knowledge, but the DHA would have standing to sue if it did. 

The deadline for beginning construction on Phase One of the High Street Development is Dec. 31, according to a development schedule from the Jan. 21 Development Authority meeting. The deadline for completion of the first structure within the project is Oct. 1, 2023. If these deadlines are not met, the approval of the tax abatement would be void, according to a city spokesperson. 

GID applied for land disturbance in 2019, according to city Community Development Director Richard McLeod. He said GID also applied for several building permits, but has not paid for any permits nor picked them up. GID resubmitted the building permits application with some revised drawings in late 2020. Those applications were reviewed and approved, but have not yet been picked up by GID.

GID did not respond to requests for comment. 

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.