Monday, October 23, 2006

Sembler's proposed $600 million complex in DeKalb County, Ga.

by Wes Fager

Monday, October 23, 2006
Sembler Company wants to build a $600 million complex of stores, offices and homes on 100 acres of government-controlled property at North Druid Hills and Briarcliff roads in DeKalb County, Georgia (the county around Atlanta). The property is owned by the DeKalb County School System and land leased for 48 years to the DeKalb Housing Authority. It would be one of the largest re-developments in metro Atlanta. Parents and residents are concerned about the consequences of the proposal but county officials, until recently, have been relatively quiet on the plan though they have talked of the tax revenue benefits it would bring. Gale Walldorff, district 2 commissioner (the area where Sembler wants to build) has said, "The magnitude of this project is so huge it needs to be handled as a collaborative effort." Ms. Walldorff is not seeking reelection this November.

The school property is home to three schools. The Sembler proposal would give Sembler title to the leases held by the Housing Authority, many of which are rented to low-income residents. Sembler offered $56 million and promised to build more low-income units than it tears down. The authority's board has agreed in principle to sell its stake in the property for $56 million. Housing authority directors voted Aug. 1 to let Bettye Davis, the authority's chief executive officer, negotiate details of a contract with Sembler. The housing board operates independently of the county but the county's Board of Commissioners has appointed most of its members.

The people want to know about the "secret" negotiations but the housing authority was mum on it until recently when documents revealing details of Sembler's proposal were released. Then, on Oct. 17, Bettye Davis was fired though board attorney Greg Worthy Turner has stated that her firing had nothing to do with the recent release of data on the confidential deal.

Gale Waldorff's district is a Democrat stronghold where four of five voters cast Democratic ballots in the July primary. Democrat Jeff Rader is seeking her seat against a 73 Republican named Hubert Rambo. Even the Atlanta-Journal-Constitution favors Rader with his background in city planing, and assignments with the Greater Atlanta Home Builders Association, the Regional Business Coalition and the Georgia Regional Transportation Authority. The Atlanta paper promotes Rader stating, "He is already raising important questions about negotiations between the DeKalb school system, the DeKalb Housing Authority and Sembler Co. . . A project of that magnitude needs to be discussed in the sunlight so residents can judge for themselves whether it's a benefit or a boondoggle."

Rader's supporters include Waldorff who contributed $500 to his campaign. Rader recently spoke at a speaking engagement at a restaurant last week hosted by developer Jeff Fuqua of Sembler Co. Rader has accepted two campaign contributions totalling $500 from Attache Public Affairs, "a media go-between for Sembler." Of Sembler's proposed deal Rader complained that, "There's no process here. This is being done like a private land deal.

"This report is based on a series in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and includes, among others, the following articles:

Labels: Georgia, Sembler Company

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