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New concerns emerge over mall redevelopment

The ongoing saga of a proposed redevelopment of the Georgia Square Mall area continues after members of the county’s Mall Area Redevelopment Committee met yesterday afternoon.

A group of developers who want to revitalize the area say that their proposal, if approved, would create around 1,000 new housing units for the county, as well as other amenities like more greenspace and a transit station.

In exchange, they want to be reimbursed over time from the increased revenue that the development is expected to bring – to the tune of about $189 million.

But at Tuesday's meeting, members of the committee, composed of commissioners and school board members, had questions about the project’s affordable housing provisions. Developers have agreed to make 10 percent of the housing units affordable for people making 80 percent of the area median income.

The problem, according to some committee members, is with that measurement - area median income. The area in being measured includes not just Clarke County but surrounding – and wealthier – counties like Oconee. While the area median income is about $82,000 per year, Clarke County’s median income in far lower, closer to $44,000 per year.

"When we talk about the average median income in this metropolitan statistical area, $82,000 is completely unreasonable," said committee member and school board member Mumbi Anderson. "We really do need to look at the actual figure of the median family income [in Clarke County] and that is $43,000 a year - so it is half of the average median income [for the area]."

Anderson suggested that instead of being pegged to 80 percent of the AMI, the affordable housing units be pegged to 60% for a shorter period of time, making the units more affordable for people in Clarke County.

Committee members also raised questions about the discrepancy between the developer’s estimate of the number of jobs that could be created by the development versus the county’s estimate.

While county officials project around 350 new jobs from the project, the developers have painted a rosier picture – estimating that over 1,000 jobs could emerge.

Part of the discrepancy seems to stem from the types of jobs being projected – the developer’s estimate includes construction jobs while county estimates do not.

No vote was taken at Tuesday’s meeting, but votes by both the full ACC Commission and the Board of Education are expected in the next week.

Martin Matheny is WUGA's Program Director and a host and producer of our local news program 'Athens News Matters.' He started at WUGA in 2012 as a part-time classical music host and still hosts WUGA's longest-running local program 'Night Music' which is heard on WUGA and GPB Classical. He lives in Normaltown with his wife, Shaye and dog, Murphy.
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