We are endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights. To secure these rights, governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. The City of Cumming thinks those just powers look a lot like corporate development, and they’re not alone in that belief.
Look at Cumming’s neighbors: Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Duluth, Sugar Hill, Suwanee. All of them have built extravagant city centers with government offices, businesses and residences. These are idealized downtown areas to match the wonder and promise of Celebration, Fla. (Walt Disney’s dream town.)
Except in these cases, it’s not a private entity making the dream a reality with their own funds. It’s your local government spending your tax dollars to buy up privately-owned land just to turn around and lease it back to private residents and businesses.
All of these cities have decided they want in on the developer business — and they have demanded that taxpayers put up the funds.
Despite widespread concern for the ongoing high-density development of Cumming and the rest of Forsyth County, the City of Cumming is plowing forward to keep up with other cities in suburban Atlanta.
Through the Downtown Development Authority, the city is now appointing members, hiring multi-million-dollar property managers and buying up millions worth of land. All so we can build a brand-new facade of a downtown to attract businesses and tenants who would be renting from the government.
Private businesses raise money, develop plans, petition the government and invest large sums of money to build massive developments like The Collection at Forsyth, Halcyon, Avalon and others in our area. The City of Cumming has decided that they can out-compete these corporate interests since they have the inside track on getting land, zoning and approvals. They also have no money of their own to risk. Surely their careers won’t be affected, regardless of whether or not the final development is a success ... or even built at all.
Reading through the city’s charter, what is the purpose of our local government and how does this Downtown Development serve that purpose?
The purposes of the City of Cumming listed in its charter are to provide and manage public services and facilities including sewers, water, a board of health, police, courts, fire protection, parks, roads, public buildings and for other purposes.
Those other purposes seem to be the focus of the current city plans.
Cumming had a comprehensive 20-year plan that was adopted in 2017. However, this comprehensive plan is no longer available on the city’s or the Georgia Department of Community Affairs’ website, despite the plan being a state requirement for all local governments in order to receive state incentives. The archived January 2017 draft plan I located didn’t include a new downtown development. It focused on making improvements to the existing central business district.
What of our current downtown? I must admit, it’s not much of a destination. But is that because the government doesn’t own the surrounding land and buildings and lacked a master plan? Or is it because the government already made poor decisions about how to use the land in our downtown and built government offices, parking garages and a jail?
The city and county have invested a lot in our existing downtown over the last two decades. The Cumming City Hall was built in 2002. The new courthouse, parking garage and jail were opened in 2015. Just this past year, the county renovated and re-landscaped the old courthouse.
There is actually some promising new private development going up around Cumming’s downtown, but that has probably come to a halt since new downtown plans were announced.
I ask you this, dear citizens and taxpayers: Is this a legitimate and just power of the government?
To buy land on your behalf, to build retail spaces and townhouses, and then to operate as government landlord?
If the development does succeed, will taxes be reduced from the profits? Or will those returns go into a general fund and disappear from all collective minds and wallets?
Are the city coffers so filled, and those other public needs already met, that the city has no better way to spend tax dollars? And are Cumming residents so willing to fund a new development project rather than have taxes reduced?
It’s not too late to re-evaluate whether or not this “other purpose” is a legitimate function of the government.
If the people voice their lack of consent, maybe it’s not too late to stop the waste of further taxpayer funds.
Daniel Fleck is a resident of Forsyth County, engineer and driving enthusiast. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.