Jul. 22—More restaurants and shops. More amenities for current and future citizens of Varnell.
That's what members of the Varnell City Council said a new economic redevelopment district could bring.
"We certainly hope that will be the result," said Mayor Tom Dickson.
Council members voted 4-0 Tuesday to create a redevelopment district that 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.
Before that vote, council members also voted 4-0 to accept a request from the owners of Patterson Farms, a 74-acre, mixed commercial and residential development just south of the city on Cleveland Highway, to be annexed into the city. That extended the city limits further south and placed Patterson Farms inside the redevelopment district.
Having a redevelopment district will allow the City Council to create tax allocation districts (TADs).
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.
During a public hearing before the vote, Gary Mongeon, senior vice president of KB Advisory Group, a consulting group hired to help the city and Patterson Farms plan the redevelopment district, said creating the district does not commit the city to creating any TADs. Property owners and developers would have to bring any proposal to the council, which would vote on each one separately. He also said TADs would not involve any tax increase. Under the redevelopment plan approved by the council, TADs cannot last more than 30 years.
The only person to speak during the public hearing was Varnell resident Sarah Harrison. Harrison said she is retired from the Northwest Georgia Regional Commission, which helps local governments with planning and workforce development, and was formerly director of the Downtown Dalton Development Authority, which, among other services, helps downtown businesses qualify for various state and federal business incentives.
She said during her career she had the opportunity to study redevelopment in cities across the state.
"Let's encourage the City Council to approve TAD development for the city of Varnell so we have no lost opportunities, but more importantly, so that the growth that does come, and it has already started, occurs in a planned, well-thought-out way that is beneficial to everyone," she said.
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.
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.
Mitchell Hollis, a partner in Patterson Farms, said they will not be able to do the commercial part of the project without a TAD.
"We are going to do a residential project regardless," he said. "But the commercial part requires more extensive infrastructure, and we need a TAD to finance that."
The plans call for shops, restaurants and other businesses along Cleveland Highway.
The residential development will be a mix of single- and multifamily units, with about 490 total units. Hollis said it will be eight to 10 years before the development is fully built out.
"That will depend on a lot of factors, the economy being one of the main ones," Hollis said.
Hollis said the exact price range for the units hasn't been decided, but they are looking at $250,000 to $475,000 for the single-family homes.
Allyson Coker, project manager for Believe Greater Dalton, was one of several local economic development officials to attend the meeting. Believe Greater Dalton is an organization sponsored by the Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce that is working on strategies to improve the community.
In 2018, Believe Greater Dalton commissioned a housing study that found the housing stock in Whitfield County is aging. Just 18% of the county's housing stock was built in the 21st century. Statewide, the average is 31%.
Coker said she is excited about the plans for Patterson Farms.
"If I recall that housing study correctly, we are going to have to build 150 to 160 new single-family units a year for six years to get our housing market back to a healthy situation," she said. "This is certainly going to help out."