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City close to creating first TAD
TAD zones
A map of the proposed TAD. Numbers 1,2,3 and 4 denote property on Highway 17 near the I-95 exit 87 interchange; 5 is where the old A-1 motel once sat; 6-7 are at the crossroads and 8 is at exit 90 at the 144 interchange.

This is the first in multi-part look at Richmond Hill’s redevelopment plans.

When Richmond Hill voters in 2019 approved a referendum allowing the city to use Georgia’s Redevelopment Powers Law, it allowed the city to establish Tax Allocation Districts, or TADs, in an effort to revitalize areas in the city without raising millage rates.

Those plans are starting to take shape, and the city will hold a second public hearing Aug. 3 before city council votes on a redevelopment plan for the establishment of its first-ever TAD.

If approved, the TAD will essentially include much of Richmond Hill’s current commercial sector.

It will consists of 157 parcels on 567.8 acres of land along Highway 17, Ford Avenue and I-95 at exits 87 and 90, according to information provided the city by consultant Ken Bleakly of KB Advisory Group.

Those parcels, which already include everything from motels to office spaces to restaurants and gas stations, had in 2019 a combined taxable value of more than $34 million, about 5.8 percent of the city’s tax digest of $588.7 million.

That’s important, consultants say, because a city can’t have more than 10 percent of its digest in a TAD at any given time, according to the city’s consultant, meaning there’s room for another TAD in the future.

Together, the parcels in the city’s “Commercial Gateway to Richmond Hill” TAD run alongside both main highways as well the interstate and interchanges.

They qualify as a TAD because, in the words of a June 6 presentation to city council, they are in a “deteriorating area,” for a number of reasons, including stagnation in the tax digest – which KBA group said grew by about 14 percent annually from 2000 to 2009 but only by 1 percent since.

Retail “leakage,” to the tune of about $88 million annually in potential retail purchases from Richmond Hill residents as well as “older, vacant commercial structures, and large long vacant land parcels,” are also cited as proof the area needs revitalizing, as are lagging property values for older motels in the area, which at $55.34 per square foot have about half the property value of newer motels in the proposed TAD, with a market value of $106.28 per square foot, the consultant said.

In a TAD, property owners within its boundaries can participate by offering projects meeting the city’s criteria for redevelopment.

When the TAD is formed, the assessed value of the properties within it at that time provide a baseline, and taxes collected on it continue to go to Richmond Hill, Bryan County and Bryan County Schools.

But as improvements are made, property values go up, and so do the taxes – and the additional taxes on improvements in the TAD due to redevelopment are set aside to fund the infrastructure improvements, either on a “pay as you go” basis as the taxes are collected, or to pay back bonds or loans used up front to pay for the improvements, officials say.

There are currently eight “hypothetical” projects listed as part of Richmond Hill’s first TAD, including additional motels, restaurants and other commercial growth around Exit 87 and alongside Highway 17; more medical office space, a professional office park and a Civic Center on 17 where the A-1 motel once sat, among other plans. The hypothetical projects include more mixed use development at the cross roads west of 17 and at Exit 90, will also mean some residential development with townhomes and apartments mixed in with the commercial growth.

Officials expect the new development and redevelopment could generate millions annually in tax revenue, while also revitalizing the I-95 interchanges at 17 and 144 at roughly the same time the city’s new I-95 interchange at Belfast Keller begins to grow.

“With the new interchange, we don’t want there to be a new interchange and old interchanges,” Richmond Hill Mayor “We want them all to be updated and viable.”

Up next: A further look at some of the numbers.

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