East Cobbers could have a new place to shop for groceries after the Development Authority of Cobb County approved a plan to issue $35 million in bonds and give Kroger a 10-year tax break on a new store.
But the plan did not come to be without controversy.
Under the agreement approved Tuesday, the development authority would take the title to the property, removing it from the tax rolls. The company would pay no taxes on the improved property during the first year, with payment increasing each year until it reached 100 percent after 11 years.
The new Kroger store is the anchor of a $120 million mixed-use development that is planned to contain a self-storage facility, restaurants and luxury apartments, which would start at $1,500 for a single bedroom.
The development, called Marketplace Terrell Mill, is set to be built on the site of Brumby Elementary School, which is scheduled to be replaced by a new facility on Terrell Mill Road near Terrell Mill Park. The property also contains some office and retail space. The pending tax abatement would apply only to Kroger and not to the surrounding development.
The new Kroger will be approximately 103,000 square feet and include gas pumps, a drive-thru pharmacy, online grocery orders and ready-made meals to go.
Kroger plans to shut down its nearby location on Terrell Mill and Powers Ferry roads. The employees there would have the option to transfer to the new store or another location.
Two of the seven board members, Karen Hallacy and Kevin Nicholas, voted against the deal. It was the right store, they said, but not the right price.
“I am very concerned with setting a precedent that is a dangerous precedent,” Hallacy said. “I think that adding Kroger and that whole development is a wonderful addition to the area, I’m not going to argue that at all. I think the development authority giving a tax abatement to a retail center is not in the intent of the original legislation. I think we are opening ourselves up for every Walmart, Sam’s, Costco, Publix, Kroger (and) Kmart to ask us for tax abatement.”
Authority member Donna Rowe supported the measure, saying the area is currently unattractive and prone to crime.
“That corner is not very aesthetic right now,” she said. “That corner has sat there, dormant, in my opinion, for a long period of time. Brumby being moved to the new facility and the school board not having a problem with it, in my opinion, is a plus. … It is cleaning up that corner, otherwise we’re going to end up in a very similar situation to Commissioner (JoAnn) Birrell has over on Sandy Plains and East Piedmont with that disaster on their hands over there.”
Rowe was referring to the Sprayberry Crossing shopping center, on which the county is considering imposing extra property taxes through its “blight tax” program.
Nicholas echoed Hallacy’s concerns, and said he questions whether the authority’s funds are necessary to attract business to such a busy corridor.
“Also the desirability of that property, it’s highly desirable right now. Whether or not tax abatements are needed for that development is a question for me. We just need to be good stewards of the taxpayer dollar. What’s the economic impact versus the tax abatement cost? Overall, I think it’s a wonderful project, but there’s just a couple concerns,” he said.
Brian Fratesi, vice president of development and acquisitions for developer Connolly Investment and Development, said the 23.9-acre site has multiple owners, and getting them to all sign on for this project took years. If the authority were to back down, other projects may come, but they would not likely be one unified development, he said.
If all goes according to plan, the developers said, construction could begin in the third quarter of this year, with the first tenants moving in shortly after and Kroger coming in the early 2020s.