On Sept. 28, the Rome City Commission in a 5-2 vote agreed to rezone 11 acres of city-owned property along Riverside Parkway opposite Ridge Ferry Park for the construction of an upscale apartment complex and a restaurant. This would be the first phase of a much larger 80-acre project known as “City Center.”
Approval of rezoning does not mean the project is a “done deal.” Before any dirt is moved the City Commission must approve a master development plan for all 80 acres.
The developer, Ledbetter Properties, must also secure federal environmental permits, and because the project involves cleaning up an abandoned city landfill, Ledbetter Properties must also get a cleanup plan approved by the state.
Citizens opposed to this project still have many opportunities to alter or even stop it.
CRBI, for its part, has worked consistently during the past seven years to educate the public and the City Commission about the problems with this proposed development. The organization, with more than 3,500 members, opposes the project because it will destroy sensitive land that keeps our rivers clean and provides homes for a host of wildlife—from fish and frogs to beavers and bears (yes, a bear was once spotted scurrying into this natural hideaway).
More importantly, in this 80-acre tract of land the city has the opportunity to create Rome’s “Central Park,” an expanse of woods and greenspace stretching from historic Jackson Hill to the Oostanaula River, connected by recreational trails spanning the Burwell Creek wetlands.
A study paid for by the city and released in 2001 recommended that very thing. From that report: the development “of Jackson Hill within this overarching theme of rivers and water will create opportunities to connect the site thematically and physically with other city parks, thus achieving the long-term goal for a central park.”
This study was set aside when Ledbetter Properties approached the city with their City Center proposal. Current plans for the project include a connective trail between Jackson Hill and Ridge Ferry Park, and the hometown developer has agreed to preserve most of the wetlands adjacent to Burwell Creek. This is considerable progress over their initial plan that called for filling the entire area, and it represents a compromise that would preserve some critical natural areas and provide recreational opportunities for area residents.
But, at CRBI, that’s not what we hear that citizens want. They want the city to preserve the floodplain forest and wetlands and create more parkland. They have good reason to feel this way.
In addition to forfeiting a unique natural area, what the City Commission is contemplating amounts to a giant government hand out—our small town version of corporate welfare.
Nearly a decade ago, the city negotiated a price of $600,000 for the 80-acre tract, or about $7000 an acre, a bargain basement price that took into account the presence of the old city landfill.
But, guess who pays for the old city dump cleanup? You guessed it! City taxpayers. The entire 80-acre project is part of a tax allocation district (TAD) created at Ledbetter Properties’ request. As a TAD development, the city will issue bonds to pay for the landfill fix and other development costs; those bonds will be paid off with property taxes that Ledbetter Properties pays on the finished project—property taxes that would otherwise go to pay for critical city services.
It’s as if you gave the buyer of your house a discount knowing that he’d soon have to replace the roof only to have that same buyer ask you to pay for the roof replacement. If the project were built elsewhere, the city would immediately realize new property tax revenues.
And, here’s the kicker: the old city landfill doesn’t need to be cleaned up. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, after reviewing all the data on hazardous substances in the dump, labeled the site: NFRAP—no further remedial action planned.
This is a bad deal for our rivers, and it’s a bad deal for local residents. The city commission should end its longstanding courtship with Ledbetter Properties and find a new bride for its Burwell Creek property.