MARTA gets money to promote high density development

050519 - ATLANTA, GA -- MARTA maintenance crews work on clearance testing trains at the new MARTA Armour Rd. maintenance yard. (BILLY SMITH II/AJC staff)

050519 – ATLANTA, GA — MARTA maintenance crews work on clearance testing trains at the new MARTA Armour Rd. maintenance yard. (BILLY SMITH II/AJC staff)

Todays AJC contains an article explaining that the Federal Transit Administration is giving MARTA money to foster high density developments which will make traffic worse and justify the expansion of routes not dense enough for heavy rail yet. Click on the picture above to read the whole thing. Below are two excerpts:

MARTA and the Atlanta Beltline have been chosen to receive federal grants to help spur denser development around future transit lines, the Federal Transit Administration announced Tuesday.

MARTA was awarded $1.6 million, while the Beltline received $500,000 as part of a pilot program of the FTA. The money cannot be used to build future transit lines or buy the rail cars or streetcars that would run on them.

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It must be used to plan and promote future development of businesses and homes along proposed transit lines – the kind of development that will attract built-in customers for those transit lines one day. (Think high-rise office buildings, condos and apartment towers.)

Such “transit-oriented development” or “transit supportive development” is helpful in obtaining future FTA grants, because it demonstrates that the new trains or streetcars would be able to draw riders, said Janide Sidifall, a senior project manager for MARTA.

While the money is designated for MARTA’s I-20 corridor the article specifically mentions Alpharetta as a possible alternative for expansion.

Partisan bickering over Georgia’s transportation tax illustrates why it won’t solve anything

Jim Galloway points out in his Political Insider column for the AJC that the campaign to squeeze more money from Georgia’s taxpayers has hit another speedbump:

At the state Capitol, next year’s statewide round of regional sales tax votes is again in trouble.

At issue is legislation backed by Gov. Nathan Deal to shift the day of the vote from the July primary, when the electorate is likely to be overwhelmingly Republican, to the November general election.

Tea-party Republicans against the sales tax are opposed to changing the date, accusing supporters of trolling for voters churned out by President Barack Obama’s re-election bid. In a private session with Republican lawmakers from metro Atlanta, Deal this week quietly argued that presenting a tax initiative before the largest audience possible is in keeping with GOP principles, according to people who were in the room.

In addition to Deal’s backing, another good sign for supporters is that the legislation to change the date of the vote is sponsored by House Speaker pro tem Jan Jones of Alpharetta — the most powerful metro Atlanta lawmaker in the Legislature. So the Republican side of the transit sales tax vote may be close, but it’s likely to hold together.

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Democrats in Fulton and DeKalb counties have supported next year’s transit sales tax vote — but only reluctantly, given that their voters have long been paying an extra penny sales tax to fund MARTA.

With tea party Republicans opposing the issue from the right, black lawmakers will be needed to make up the difference, if the date to shift the transit vote is to succeed.

State Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, chairman of the Legislative Black Caucus, said his members are angry enough over the Senate map to lock down on the transit issue. “I think our caucus would be inclined not to cooperate,” Jones said.

It is sad to see such an important issue bogged down in partisan politics but it is completely predictable. Georgia’s transportation problem isn’t caused by a lack of money it is caused by an incompetent political class. As I wrote in this post last year:

The political class say they could fix the problem if they only had more money. What the political class doesn’t understand is that the voters don’t blame infrastructure needs on a lack of money, the voters place the blame on the political class. Taxes in Georgia are the 16th highest in all of the United States while transportation spending is 49th out 50. See the problem?

But Georgia’s political class won’t accept the fact that they have been the problem. Instead, the politicians and lobbyists  sat down together and once again hammered out an agreement acceptable to the politicans and lobbyists.  And once again their solution is to raise taxes… billions and billions of dollars in taxes. That solution must have sounded awfully good in their echo chamber because a few months ago the political class unveiled this genius idea to great fanfair and they patted themselves on the back so hard that Atlanta’s chiropractors must have made a fortune.

But the people that will pay for this enormous tax increase are not impressed, they are hurting. They face 10% unemployment while the other 90% are still unsure of the future. More than 12,000 Georgia homes were foreclosed in July. IRA accounts and home prices are going down while grocery and gasoline prices are going up. To make matters worse their federal income taxes are going up in a few weeks and they will have even less money to spend. Georgia voters are hurting and they find it offensive that political insiders have decided taxpayers need to pay billions of dollars more to fund transportation improvements. While transportation improvements might bring jobs to Georgia in a decade or so, the state’s taxpayers would have to cough up billions of dollars that could have gone to pay their mortgage or put food on the table in the meantime.

The tax increase being pushed to solve Georgia’s very real transportation problem won’t solve anything because lack of money isn’t the problem. Lack of effective leadership is.

AJC Home Sales Report: No telling when we’ll hit bottom

The AJC began a realistic presentation of the Atlanta real estate market in a two part series they call the AJC Home Sales Report. You should read the whole thing here.

Some highlights include:

Our annual analysis tracks the sales of 43,000 houses in metro Atlanta in 2010, and the trend is still going in the same depressing direction.

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Analysis from this year’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution Home Sales Report reveals that home values in metro Atlanta remain locked in a four-year slide as the pace of home sales sputtered. Five thousand fewer homes sold in nine metro counties last year than in 2009, accounting for a 9 percent drop. Those that did sell went for less than in 2009: Home prices fell 4.5 percent last year.

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Homes in the northern suburbs sold at a faster pace than other areas, though suburban home values continued to slide. Cherokee, Cobb, Forsyth and Gwinnett had increases in the number of existing homes sold. But prices decreased 17 percent to $126,500 in Cobb’s 30067; 11 percent to $135,250 around Woodstock in Cherokee’s 30188; and 15.8 percent to $80,000 around Norcross in Gwinnett’s 30071.

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The report, along with interviews with dozens of buyers, sellers, agents and experts, paints an uneven picture of the market. This much, however, is clear: Metro Atlanta’s housing market remains a big gamble.

This is a far cry from seven years ago when home sales began to increase 10 percent a year while median home prices grew about 5 percent a year. That ended in 2007, when home prices in the 20-county region went flat and home sales fell 22.3 percent.

I would love to tell friends and clients that the real estate has hit bottom and everything will be rosy from here on out but that simply isn’t the case. There are still too many foreclosure and short sale properties on the market with more in the pipeline for the market to stabilize.

Is it a good time to buy a home? Yes. If you need or want to buy a home and are in the financial position to do so this is a great time to buy and there are some incredible deals out there. But don’t let anyone tell you that the overall real estate market has hit bottom or is even close to doing so… yet.

AJC explores the urbanization of Alpharetta

The Atlanta Journal Constitution has an article which explores the ongoing push by City Council to urbanize Alpharetta. You can read the whole thing here.

The piece includes comments from yours truly and another like minded resident. MetLife refused to comment. I guess they feel no need to defend the loss of 1800 jobs in exchange for 500 condos since it was the city’s idea in the first place.

A few snippets:

“The City of Alpharetta continues to add density, add condominiums and it’s going to have a negative impact on the future,” said resident Jimmy Gilvin, who plans to attend Monday night’s meeting. “We have a great quality of life, we have great public schools and for some reason that seems to be under attack right now.”

“Alpharetta is probably the only city in the country where a developer walks into the Community Development Department requesting a simple stream variance, and he leaves with the promise to push through zoning for a high density, mixed-use project,” resident Mark McKean said.

In response to the comments by Alpharetta residents the director of Alpharetta’s Community Development Department, Diana Wheeler, had this to say:

Wheeler denies the charge, and said there has been no attempt to alter the zoning code to fit MetLife’s plan. “If the plan met the code, it wouldn’t require a public hearing,” she said.

Well the city is holding a public hearing. So is Ms. Wheeler saying that the MetLife development doesn’t meet the code? Ms. Wheeler’s comments make no sense to me but then again neither does the Unified Development Code she devised in an attempt to permit developments that most city residents abhor.

There is still time to call the city and notify them of your position before the vote tonight. The phone number is 678-297-6000.