City In Active Discussions To Acquire Children’s Home’s 77 Acres

A reader reports that Mayor Patti Garrett announced at tonight’s State of the City that the city is in active discussions to acquire the United Methodist Children’s Home’s  77 acres.

More details when we have them.

UPDATE: Here’s a bit more info on this news from Decaturish.


51 thoughts on “City In Active Discussions To Acquire Children’s Home’s 77 Acres”

  1. Yay and thank you for the effort Mayor Garrett! Maybe we can still save a portion for wildlife habitat…and save the old trees & stone chapel!

  2. This would be great. I would hope that a substantial portion of the property is reserved for green space and public use. Important historic structures could also be preserved as to not lose the area’s history and character.

    If it’s able to be successful, this would certainly be a tax worth paying to support.

    However, I would be concerned if some sort of city-run housing scheme emerges, akin to what just happened on the lot in Commerce street.

  3. While I would appreciate the open space and parkland as much as anyone, it seems like an irresponsible purchase of property outside of the city limits, at top-of-the-market cost, at a considerable taxpayer expense. To put it into perspective, the principal and interest payments over 30 years would account for 10% of the general fund budget for the City. If the City puts it under contract, I would like to see a referendum explained by the resulting effect on our property taxes before the sale can be consummated.

    The City should be careful making these decisions during flush times, as there will be lean times too. At times like those, when the City and its residents are looking carefully at every penny, can we justify the several hundred dollars per year of property tax to add a park at the edge of town? Perhaps, but I’d like a whole lot more explanation and analysis.

    1. Sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot… if the city doesn’t move now, the opportunity will be lost

    2. I think the commissioners will be smart about this. DocG is correct – this is a once in a lifetime opportunity. Where else is there an undeveloped property of this size in or adjacent to the city? I would support preservation of part of the property, with development of other parts.

      1. I would guess that any sale would be dependent on voter approval of a bond referendum, just as the Talley St contract was executed by the schools.

        This can’t be done without ultimate voter approval.

    3. I strongly disagree. The likelihood would be that if a purchase were to happen, the land would be annexed into the city. It’s also very close to downtown. Any land not developed for a park or government use could contribute to the tax base.

      Assuming a $40 million price for the entire property without any sub-sales to offset the price, the debt service on this would be around $2 million/year at current rates – less than $100 per resident.

      Remember, this is an asset that would be acquired by the city, so long term the money is not just squandered away somewhere. When today’s children of Decatur are grown, they’ll have a paid off park that can be used by their children as opposed to more suburban development.

      Because of the increase in the tax digest, it you applied the city millage rate from five years ago to today, you’d come up with about the same amount of money.

      The City Schools just applied this logic recently when they said the millage rate wouldn’t change, but they would bring in more revenue from the senior tax exemption. The exemption will mean that non-senior property taxes will go up by $1.2 million, per estimates (to cover the $1.2 million of senior taxes that will not be paid)….and that acquires a wealth transfer to seniors from everyone else.

      In general, Decatur residents support a high level of services and are willing to pay the price…also the time is now or never!

      1. I’ll start by saying that we don’t disagree about much, and are on the same page that, for the most part, Decatur residents are willing to pay a higher amount for a high degree of services.

        Philosophically, we probably disagree about government and squandering of money (see, for example, crosswalk designs).

        Here’s where I have questions:
        (1) You posit an assumption that some of the property will be used for park, while other may add to the tax base. For that to occur, the City would then need to subdivide the property and either sell a portion or develop it itself. My belief is that the City should not play developer, and it’s informed by the tiny house development that they are trying on Commerce. If they plan to sell a portion of the land, then I would like to know how much and what land use restrictions they will apply. Overall, I think that would be a good strategy.

        (2) You apply a tax millage rate from five years ago, before the massive appreciation. Why wouldn’t you show the effect on the millage rate from today, when we’ve priced in the appreciation? You posit a $100 increase per resident, but taxes are assessed by property value. I’d like to know how much my property taxes will increase overall.

        1. To your #1 – the Calloway redevelopment is a better comparison than the tiny house “experiment”. The city brought in Cousins for the Calloway.

          1. Thanks for pointing this out Smith. re: Calloway, I’m still confused and unsure as to why it was not used to expand the high school. Maybe I need to go back through the DM annals.

            1. The short (and incomplete) answer is that that site is among the most valuable real estate in the entire city and, because it’s been county government property, it’s been off the tax rolls for decades. Getting it back on has been a city priority for years. School use would essentially remove it forever, so thankfully they’ve been able to manage their expansions in other ways.

        2. $2 million buys you annual debt service on $40 million. If the city spends $20 million on half the property, that would be $1 million of annual debt service, with the other half of the property presumably supporting the tax base and offsetting the $1 million to some degree.

          Overall cost of $2 million annually is $100 per resident. I didn’t link it to property taxes. An extra mil and change on a $14 million (City) property tax revenue base is around a million and a half, so roughly similar.

          We got a $75 million school bond for 1.57 mills.

          Run your current city tax assessment at the old rate and you’ll see the difference. It’s higher taxes, no doubt, but as I mentioned, there is a history in the city of equating millage rate to raising or lowering taxes. A tax increase tied to debt service on $30 million is about the same cost as the senior exemption on the school portion that recently passed.

          This is a one-time opportunity, and I’d really hate to see it go. Parkland/recreation really should be Decatur City’s top priority right now. Thing only get more dense from here….

  4. It’s technically “at the edge of town,” but that’s pretty relative in Decatur terms; it’s only a mile or so from the square.

    1. Yeah, I’d like to see how many of us Deca’turs live on what might qualify as the,”Edge of town”. We have a lot of edges. If we were an island (which we kind of are) the edges would be beachfront property.

  5. The annexation would be easy. The Methodists request it, a local bill is introduced in the General Assembly, and that’s it when it passes. I’m not sure how much say the County has in the matter.

    1. Individual parcel annexations don’t require the General Assembly, do they? Wouldn’t this follow the same precedent as an individual house that adjoins the city submitting a request for annexation that goes before the Planning Commission and the City Commission?

      1. Yeah, you may be right. Don’t know if, due to the nature of the parcel, General Assembly action would be required or not.

        1. Based on my understanding of annexation law, it does not require an act of the General Assembly when 100 percent of the property owners petition the city for annexation. In this case, the city would become the sole property owner of all the acres, so the city would have the ultimate say so of whether it gets annexed or not. The annexation of the property probably won’t be complicated and the Legislature wouldn’t need to be involved at any level.

          1. The city would be the property owner if the annexation request were after a sale, but before a sale, the Methodists could request annexation.

          2. Does the City have the ability to purchase/own property outside of its borders? If not, then it would have to be the Methodists to request annexation. Of course, that could easily be written in as a requirement of any purchase contract.

            1. I’m almost positive the city can purchase things outside of its borders … But yes, it could easily be put into a contract or UMCH could petition ahead of the sale.

  6. What will happen to the children currently living there? Will any portion of this property be set aside for affordable housing?

    1. The current residents are transitioning to foster care, which is where the Methodist organization is focusing their mission in the future. As for the land itself, assuming it gets purchased by the city, the Mayor said there’d be a community visioning process to establish how it would be used. There are no specific plans at this point.

      1. No!

        A homeowner near by received a letter recently telling her that the land would be redeveloped into a 500 house development. I have no idea when she got the letter but she was incensed. Hopefully, this was the previous interested party and not the city contacting the locals. The last thing we need is more residential development.

        1. There was an email sent out to several of the neighborhood groups that surround the property about the sale. It referenced development of 600+ homes. The email was sent by a staff member and former resident of the Home.

  7. From what I understand, the vision is for the area to remain basically a green space and the money will be raised to purchase it. Not bonds or any borrowings.

    1. Money has to come from somewhere – the Children’s Home is counting on the funds to continue its mission.

  8. How about instead of taxing everybody, including the remaining few non-rich COD residents who really can’t afford it, the city starts a Gofundme account? The people who really, really, really want another park and can afford to pay for it would have their chance to put up or shut up. Problem solved!

    1. YES. I’d love a park will vehemently vote NO if I have to pay more taxes for it. I CAN’T AFFORD IT. Period.

      1. How did you vote on the School Senior tax exemption? That one didn’t seem to have much resistance at all, I never saw as much as a NO sign to counter the City-led “Yes on 5”

        I think that was terrible policy that made things tougher for working families and senior/non-senior renters, to the benefit of either new affluent senior homeowners or long-time senior homeowners who sit on huge amounts of home appreciation thanks to the schools.

        I really hope to see that senior tax exemption end at its sunset in five years.

        1. I voted against all but one of the five options. I am not heartless; my family will face losing our home if our taxes continue to rise. Our mortgage has gone up $500+ a month in the last 3 years due to rising taxes and property values. It would devastate us to move but it is a reality we have to be prepared for. 🙁

          1. When will it stop Decatur… You preach diversity but continue to raise taxes. Very soon the diversity you seek will no longer be able to afford to live in the city. I think all of us that have lived here for a while have already seen this start to happen.

            1. Decatur’s tax rate hasn’t been raised in quite some time. To the contrary, it was actually reduced last year.

              That’s not to say that taxes aren’t going up. Every time DeKalb County reassesses your property, you’ll feel the pinch for sure, but that’s not the city raising taxes. And the recent school bond, while hefty, wasn’t levied against our will. It was approved overwhelmingly by taxpayers.

              Either way, there’s not even a commitment to buy this property, much less a plan to pay for it. There’s certainly been no proposal for a tax increase. It’s a work in progress so I’d encourage you to reach out to your elected officials and share these concerns. It’s important that they hear them.

              1. Thanks Scott for your thoughtful advisement (as always). I’ll reach out to as many elected officials as I can.
                Guess I’ll postpone my combination hunger strike/ permanent suspended old oak tree encampment protest until later on if & when that’s needed 🙂

              2. But the Dekalb component of our taxes has gone up significantly in the last 3-4 years. Being in Decatur, it is a minority component of my tax bill, but I am surprised how fast it has increased.

    2. Great idea but let’s apply that to every item in the tax roll. I don’t use the downtown library so let’s fund it by only the folks that use it. I don’t use any of the streets in the Great Lakes neighborhood. Let them have a fundraiser to pay for any street improvements. Since I have lived in Decatur for 25 years and have not had any children in the school system, am I not entitled to a refund when those that did all have the needed Go Fund Me website?

      There is a substitute Go Fund Me idea already in place. It’s called a municipal election. Comes around every 4 years. We all get to vote in or vote out those folks that we think best represent or don’t represent our collective wishes. I’m pretty sure the folks in those positions hold regular meetings in which we the people can express our support or outrage at what is on the table.

  9. Too late Nelliebelle. Unless the people of COD and unincorporated Dekalb near COD speak up we’re all about to be up to necks in mixed use madness with no infrastructure to support it. Get ready to sit in A LOT more traffic real soon!

  10. It might be a messy transaction, but since the property lies between Decatur and Avondale, can both share in the purchase? I can see the space used for all the festivals both cities put on. And it would be nice to see a collaboration like this. Might boost Avondale’s downtown quicker, especially with the proximity to Avondale Marta and its redevelopment.

    1. That sounds like a nice idea, but way too complicated. AE wouldn’t even be contiguous to the park unless we annex Forrest Hills. AE would prioritize the old Avondale High School and ballfield (more greenspace!) if DCS would be a willing seller, since DSA plans to move at some point in the future). I hope Decatur can pull off acquiring the property. That site is a gem–historic buildings, old trees, lake, wetlands…it will be Decatur’s Piedmont Park. Once in a lifetime opportunity, as everyone keeps saying.

  11. Complete streets is a nice idea but developers building 5 story parking decks and apartments doesn’t really jive with it. Parking decks are for cars not bikes and if people want to use the car they will.

    1. My comment was meant to be sarcastic. I guess I should have made that more obvious. Complete streets are a train wreck on roads which are meant to move large volumes of traffic quickly. I myself have moved to driving through neighborhoods because of backups caused by complete streets which were originally designed to be main thoroughfares. If you live on a neighborhood street which is seeing increased traffic please take note.

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