A new Atlanta BeltLine tax district that planners say will enable the loop’s trail portion to be completed by 2030 won City Council approval March 15. The 2-mill tax increase for commercial properties and apartment complexes roughly within a half-mile of the BeltLine will take effect this fall.

The approval of the “special service district” came despite opposition from many business organizations, apartment landlords and transit advocates. Those opponents variously argued the SSD needed more consideration, should be delayed during the economy-battering pandemic, and should be structured to include the light-rail transit element of the BeltLine as well.

A screenshot of an interactive map of the properties that will be within the Atlanta BeltLine’s special service district. To see the map and more information, go to the Atlanta BeltLine Inc. website here.

Atlanta BeltLine Inc., the organization planning and building the loop, says it is facing a $1 billion shortfall from an existing funding mechanism called a tax allocation district. ABI estimates the SSD will enable it to raise $350 million to complete the trail, of which $100 million is to come from unnamed philanthropic groups.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and officials from ABI praised the council vote in a press release issued by the Mayor’s Office.

“The Atlanta BeltLine has offered tremendous benefits for businesses and property owners along its completed trails,” said Bottoms in the release. “The SSD will help give communities throughout the city the opportunity to enjoy the benefits associated [with] the closing of the loop.”

“Our ABI team is thankful to Atlanta City Council for their leadership on the SSD,” said Clyde Higgs, ABI’s CEO, in the release. “A completed Atlanta BeltLine loop is a pathway to greater equity and long-term mobility benefits for residents, business owners, and property owners throughout the city. We look forward to deploying all the resources at our disposal to ensure all are able to stay in place and thrive.”

The Beltline’s Northside Trail segment along Atlanta Memorial Park in Buckhead. (File)

Councilmember Howard Shook of North Buckhead, along with Michael Julian Bond and Natalyn Archibong, were in the minority voting against the SSD. Councilmember Jennifer Ide, whose District 6 includes part of southeastern Buckhead, abstained from the vote, stating she had a financial interest in property on the BeltLine.

Archibong introduced an amendment to remove BeltLine parcels in the city that are located in DeKalb County. “DeKalb has never had any benefit from the BeltLine, and now it’s suddenly being taxed,” she argued, but her amendment failed to advance.

Successful amendments, according to the Mayor’s Office, included a stipulation that SSD funds are used solely for property acquisition, design and construction of the trail. Among the other changes to the final proposal, the Mayor’s Office said, was that ABI will form a “stakeholder advisory board” to oversee the SSD, with members from each BeltLine subarea. Those stakeholders will include owners of commercial and multifamily residential properties; operators of small businesses; and residents of multifamily rental properties.

In Buckhead, the only existing piece of the BeltLine is a segment near Atlanta Memorial Park called the Northside Trail, which opened over a decade ago. In recent years, ABI has been planning a route for the Northeast Trail into southeastern Buckhead, but has run into right of way issues

In a burst of activity coinciding with the SSD proposal, ABI recently made two significant Buckhead-area announcements. Preliminary planning for the Northwest Trail corridor through the neighborhood will begin soon. And the nonprofit Partnership late last year bought two properties on Garson Drive as placeholders for possible trail and affordable housing construction.

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John Ruch

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

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Collin KelleyEditor

Collin Kelley has been the editor of Atlanta Intown for two decades and has been a journalist and freelance writer for 35 years. He’s also an award-winning poet and novelist.