Business owners ‘ambushed’ by proposed tax district to complete BeltLine; public meeting set for Jan. 28

Courtesy Atlanta BeltLine Inc.

A proposed tax overlay district along the Atlanta BeltLine corridor is already meeting with opposition from small business and property owners along the trail.

Some  business owners said they felt blindsided by the legislation introduced at the Jan. 19 Atlanta City Council meeting that would create a tax overlay district to generate enough revenue to finish the trail.

The Old Fourth Ward Business Association is hosting a virtual community conversation about the “BeltLine Special Service District” on Jan. 28 at 6 p.m. not only for its membership but all business owners and stakeholders located on the 22-mile loop. Those interested in attending or joining the discussion can visit the Facebook invitation at this link.

Emma Tinsley, executive director of the business association, said the organization hadn’t take a position on the proposed tax, but said she was disappointed that BeltLine and city officials had not engaged property and small business owners.

“So many people were caught off guard about this proposal without any community engagement,” Tinsley said. “Right now, we don’t see any clear community benefit for Old Fourth Ward. We don’t believe the legislation should go forward without robust community engagement from all around the BeltLine.”

Tinsley said Thursday’s community conversation would include members of the Atlanta City Council and was hopeful that more information about the legislation would be forthcoming.

Brandon Ley and Johnny Martinez, co-owners of Joystick Gamebar and Georgia Beer Garden – both of which would be hit with the tax, were outraged by the legislation. “We feel completely ambushed by this,” Ley said. “No outreach took place to those who would be most impacted by it.”

“This was obviously thought out for months in back room dealings and now business and property owners are just being asked to say ‘yes’ to it with no public interaction or input,” Ley said. “The owners of apartment buildings will just pass that tax increase on to the renters.”

Martinez said he had no faith in the way the BeltLine was being built or operated. “They’ve made a lot of promises about affordable housing that they haven’t followed through on and now they’re telling us revenue is off by a billion dollars. Why should we  believe any numbers they tell us? Why should taxpayers have to bail them out? There’s just no accountability.”

Ley said that the fact this legislation was introduced during in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic while small businesses were struggling to keep the doors open was unconscionable.

“There’s a lot of gimme, gimme, gimme from the BeltLine and not a whole lot of giving back,” Ley said.

In the legislation for the tax overlay, BeltLine officials contend the trail corridor will not be completed before the Tax Allocation District (TAD) created to fund it expires in 2030. The TAD will generate at least $1 billion less than originally projected, while the estimated cost to design and construct the remaining trail corridor is $350 million.

Commercial and multi-family property owners within the Atlanta BeltLine Planning Area (which includes the half-mile on either side of the corridor) would see an estimated 2-mill increase or two-tenths of a penny per dollar in the assessed value of each property.

Residents living in single-family homes would not be subject to the increase.