Varnell council to vote on redevelopment district

Charles Oliver/Daily Citizen-News

The Varnell City Council is expected to vote Tuesday on whether to create a redevelopment district along Cleveland Highway, its main commercial district. That would give council members the power to create tax allocation districts (TADs) in that area.

Seven years ago, voters gave the Varnell City Council the power to create tax allocation districts (TADs). On Tuesday, council members are scheduled to hold a public hearing on a redevelopment plan and to vote on whether to create a redevelopment district where TADs could be created.

The meeting will take place at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

TADs freeze the value at which a property can be taxed for general revenue. Taxes collected on additional value created by improvements to the property are dedicated to pay for infrastructure, public artwork or other amenities to attract a developer or developers to that area.

Mayor Tom Dickson said the proposed redevelopment district follows Cleveland Highway north from the city limits to just above the intersection with Highway 2 and then goes west along Highway 2 to the area around City Hall. That area encompasses most of the city's businesses.

The owners of Patterson Farms, a 74-acre, mixed commercial and residential development just south of the city on Cleveland Highway, have requested that it be annexed into the city. Dickson said as soon as that annexation is finalized Patterson Farms will also be included in the redevelopment district.

Dickson said approving the redevelopment district does not commit the City Council members to any particular TADs. He said property owners and developers would have to bring projects to the council members, who would vote on each TAD proposal separately.

Voters in 2014 gave the city councils of Cohutta, Dalton, Tunnel Hill and Varnell the authority to create TADs. So far, only the Dalton City Council has exercised those powers, creating four.

"There's a lot of work that goes into preparing the paperwork, logistics, the legal side of creating a redevelopment plan," said Dickson. "We are excited about the opportunities for growth, and this is a tool that can open up more possibilities.

Whitfield County voters rejected measures that would have given the county Board of Commissioners the ability to create TADs in unincorporated. parts of the county in 2014 and in March of this year.

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Rob Bradham welcomed news that Varnell is looking to create a redevelopment district.

"The creation of TAD districts in municipalities within Whitfield County outside of Dalton will facilitate economic growth, and hopefully additional housing, for the entire county," he said. "The citizens of Varnell and Tunnel Hill in particular have asked for additional retail options, and housing is a critical shortage across the county. This is a positive step forward for the entire county, and especially for the folks who live in the north end of the county."

If Varnell does create a TAD, it could only freeze the city property tax rate and direct any revenues above that to the TAD. But the county Board of Commissioners could also agree to freeze county taxes within the redevelopment district. Board of Commissioners Chairman Jevin Jensen said commissioners have done that for the TADs inside the city of Dalton.

Tunnel Hill City Manager Blake Griffin said the City Council there is not considering creating a redevelopment district at this time. He said city officials are waiting for a developer or property owner to bring a project to them that would require a TAD for funding.

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