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Legal fight against Gulch redevelopment deal heats up

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Activist group Redlight the Gulch has raised more than $15,000 for legal fees, leaders report

Proponents of the Gulch project look forward to this barren wasteland of parking lots and railroad tracks being developed.
Proponents of the Gulch project look forward to this wasteland of parking lots and railroad tracks being developed.
Curbed Atlanta

The fight against the monumental Gulch redevelopment deal is not yet over.

In November, the Atlanta City Council approved a massive incentives package that would direct roughly $2 billion in public monies toward Los Angeles-based developer CIM Group’s planned overhaul of the 40-acre pit of parking lots and railroad tracks.

As the project moved forward, however, some Atlanta activists have called foul. The group Redlight the Gulch claims the Gulch deal is a major “scheme” benefitting developers with one facet—a sales tax exemption—they believe is unconstitutional, according to a GoFundMe page.

Over the three months since the incentives were approved, Redlight the Gulch has collected more than $15,000 to help support a legal push against a redevelopment deal that could produce a $5 billion mini-city in the long-underutilized downtown site.

In an update to the legal melee, Redlight the Gulch leader Julian Bene, an Atlanta business consultant, wrote that the activists’ lawyer had been volleying motions on various aspects of the case, and that the next hearing on the Tax Allocation District bonds—focusing on the property tax break—is set for Thursday.

The overarching Gulch vision, complete with new construction aplenty.
The overarching Gulch vision.
Rendering courtesy of CIM Group; designs, Perkins + Will

One major point of contention is whether the January 7 agreement made between the City of Atlanta and the Atlanta Public Schools system should be factored in by a judge during this battle.

The deal meant that APS would agree to forego future property taxes yeiled by the Gulch site through 2038, and, in exchange, the city would pay APS $15 million through 2023.

The Redlight the Gulch legal stance goes that the judge should consider only the redevelopment agreement as it was initially packaged—“before the school board caved in,” Bene wrote.

“That would prove that APS had no obligation to let $312 million of our school taxes be used to subsidize the developers,” he said. “APS never agreed to participate in the Westside TAD beyond 2023, as a judge explicitly noted back in 2008 when excluding APS taxes from another bond validation.”

Bene also asserts that parts of the Gulch development plan seem “incredibly vague, which Georgia precedent forbids.”

He claims developers’ ambitions for office space and retail don’t appear serious and alleges that leaves legal holes in the project.

The Redlight the Gulch team is still aiming to raise at least $30,000 in order to continue its legal effort.