After conflict with DeKalb County’s Development Authority, a developer is moving forward with the city of Brookhaven on a $15 million tax abatement for a new, multi-use project. 

The Manor Druid Hills project, located at the intersection of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads, sits adjacent to the future Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta campus. The Brookhaven City Council annexed the 26-acre site for the development in October 2020. 

The developer, Related Group LLC, originally approached DeKalb County’s Development Authority, also known as Decide DeKalb for the tax abatement, which would amount to $15 million over 10 years. But after considerable pushback from county officials and the school district, the developer withdrew the request. 

A screenshot of the corner of Briarcliff and North Druid Hills roads where the Manor Druid Hills project will be located.

Instead of Decide DeKalb, Related Group LLC has now approached the Brookhaven Development Authority, the city’s quasi-governmental body that provides tax breaks for property developments. At a special-called meeting on July 20, the development authority approved an inducement resolution for the project. The inducement resolution authorizes the authority to begin working on drafting a resolution to issue bonds. 

The developer has plans to replace the strip mall called Briarcliff Station that is at the site with 382 multi-family apartments, about 55,000 square feet of medical office space, and a 140-room hotel, according to Director of Economic Development Shirlynn Brownell. Twenty percent of the apartments will be affordable or workforce housing units. 

When the project was originally slated to go before Decide DeKalb, County Commissioner Jeff Rader sent an email calling on residents to speak out against the tax break, and called tax abatements an “attack” on the school system and a “threat to taxable businesses.” Decide DeKalb ended up canceling its March 25, 2021 meeting discussing the tax abatement, and Related Group LLC eventually withdrew its request.

Development authorities, which exist at the county and city level, have run into conflict with DeKalb County and the DeKalb County School District in the past. The school district does not have a seat at the table when it comes to how development authorities handle tax breaks, even though property taxes make up a significant portion of its revenue. HB 66, legislation that would allow for local school districts to have more of a say in the abatement process, is expected to be looked at during the 2022 legislative session. 

A site plan of the project. (Special/Related Group)

At the July 20 meeting, Brownell said the Manor Druid Hills project is expected to benefit the public and the school system. According to Brownell’s presentation, the project is expected to bring 270 new jobs, about $4.8 million in taxes to schools over 10 years, and somewhere from $14 million to $18 million net new taxes over 10 years. 

“Based on data from the school system, this project – even with an abatement – will not have a negative impact on the schools,” she said. 

Brownell also said while similar projects in the area have not received such large tax breaks, the Manor Druid Hills project offers a considerable benefit to the community. One of the reasons the developer is seeking an abatement is to facilitate the construction of the hotel to offset the cost of supplying affordable housing units. 

“Many of those [other] projects had no affordable housing requirements,” Brownell said. “They have been strictly multi-family at market rate, and very few, – if any – included the public benefit components that are being described for this particular project.”

City Attorney Chris Balch agreed, and said the public benefit extended beyond the affordable housing component. 

“We’re getting a 140-key hotel that’s … directly adjacent to both the Emory and the [Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta] healthcare campuses … so that people with sick children or sick family members have a place to stay that’s within walking distance of the hospitals,” he said. “We’re getting infrastructure improvements to sidewalks and streetscape, and green space and roadways” 

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry said the county would like to see transparency surrounding the tax abatement. 

“Our main concern is around the transparency of the tax abatement ‘schedule’ and the actual public benefit of the proposed $15 million in free taxes,” he said in an emailed statement. “We will wait to see those details emerge before passing judgment.” 

Brookhaven City Councilmember Madeleine Simmons attended the meeting, and said the city is in support of the project. 

Brownell said drafting the bond documents could take anywhere from 30 to 45 days, but documents could be expected around the end of August or early September. 

Sammie Purcell

Sammie Purcell is Associate Editor at Rough Draft Atlanta.