High Density Housing and Elected Officials: A Toxic Mix

Jack Bernard, a retired SVP with a large national healthcare firm, has worked extensively with hospitals across the nation regarding cost containment and insurance. He was also the first Director of Health Planning for Georgia.

Although most of my life has been spent in Georgia, I have lived all over the nation (NY, CA, LA, TX, KY). Fayette County is the best place I’ve resided for a number of reasons (schools, taxes, diversity, shopping, medical care). However, I am afraid we may now be headed in the wrong direction.
Until recently, I was on the Peachtree City Planning Commission. The negative cost-benefit of all but extremely expensive high density housing was one of the key things I learned. I emphasized to the Commission and the City Council that rezoning decisions have direct and indirect consequences, both positive and negative.
Steve Brown, former PTC mayor and County Commissioner, recently indicated why he opposed the high-density housing proposed for Fayetteville under Mayor Johnson and Peachtree City under Mayor Fleisch. He made valid points, including that entities which are development oriented (realtors, wealthy developers, big box retail stores) only want to look at the positive side, revenue to our county and city. The negative side, including cost and congestion/traffic issues, are routinely glossed over.
Having once been a for-profit hospital developer with a national chain, I understand that self-interested viewpoint, but understanding self-interest/profit and agreeing with it as being the basis for decision making by our elected officials are two very different things.
My background is in planning, which I still occasionally teach in Atlanta. I have about 20 years of hands-on top-level experience in the field, both governmental and private sector.
We as a community must do more strategic planning, determining what we want to eventually become and why. Are new “City Centers” what residents want in both cases?
From the several sessions I have attended in PTC, which I will use as my example, I believe our planning to be inadequate. Specifically, when we are evaluating the direction for the city and the county, both our quality of life and finances must be considered.
For example, when Major Fleisch states that PTC should have more high-density housing, what is the factual basis for her feeling/position? In PTC, a home appraised at less than $320,000 ends up costing local government more in services than in revenues. There are few condos costing that much or more, much less apartments (note: one proposal called for about 200 new units in Aberdeen off GA-54).
As the former Chair of the Local Tax Sub-Committee of the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia, I have concerns when developments are advocated solely from the standpoint of revenues and the benefits to special interests. There are associated costs that must be accounted for by elected officials who have a fiduciary responsibility to their constituents.
For example, it costs over $8,000 to educate every Fayette student. If we add condos and apartments, there will be additional children entering school. If there are two children per residence, that’s $16,000 a year just in school costs, a very large proportion of which is paid via our property tax. Plus, there are roads, fire, EMS, and police services required for those residents.
And, then we have to look at quality of life factors, especially congestion. Do we want to be like Hwy. 138 in Conyers, or closer to home the Newnan corridor near their shopping center?
Currently, there are many worsening traffic issues in Fayette County, the main one being the horribly congested Hwy 54 corridor from the Coweta line through PTC. Per ARC figures, this situation is getting much worse. And, past PTC Councils have taken questionable political actions like adding thousands of homes off McDuff Parkway, while putting in an obnoxious, excessive speed breaker system to discourage use of the Parkway as an alternate route around the Hwy 54-Hwy 74 bottleneck for Coweta residents. The PTC Council should be promoting alternate routes around the city, not actively discouraging them.
Our elected officials must take a more balanced long-range look at development. Voters must get more active in City and County government and hold our elected officials’ feet to the fire when they make self-interested or inadequately thought out decisions which negatively affect our quality of life and pocket books.

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