Brookhaven’s plans to annex a commercial center in unincorporated DeKalb County have been put on hold by a court order issued on behalf of Chamblee, which is interested in the same area.
Both cities are vying for the right to annex Century Center, a 100 acre commercial complex situated between Clairmont Road and I-85. Brookhaven was set to vote on the annexation Tuesday, but the restraining order prevented the vote until a hearing could be scheduled before a DeKalb superior court judge.
Chamblee believes Brookhaven’s efforts usurp its right to annex the property and surrounding residential areas, which was approved by the state legislature for a vote in November. The order is the latest in an ongoing legal battle between the two DeKalb cities.
Brookhaven wanted to include the Century Center complex in 2012, which includes several private businesses and government offices, when city planners drew initial maps for the new city. The plans did not include any of the residential areas in the Dresden East neighborhood adjacent to the commercial site. When the Dresden East Civic Association (DECA) and supporters cried foul, Brookhaven planners decided to leave both the commercial and residential areas to unincorporated DeKalb.
“These residential areas are like tongs on a fork just jammed into this commercial property,” said Elmer Veight, a resident of Dresden East and member of the Citizens for Chamblee advocacy group. “If whatever municipality in an area that provides [public] services does not get the tax revenue, that’s a disservice.”
Residents worried that without Century Center, the neighborhood would not be viable to surrounding cities in the future. The roughly 11 thousand residents would place a drain on local government for services like public safety, with no commercial revenue to support them, said DECA president Jordan Fox. “Our neighborhoods would be an unincorporated island,” he said.
DECA and other supporters then turned to Chamblee for help. A Chamblee city charter referendum to annex both Century Center and surrounding neighborhoods failed by about 40 votes last fall, amid suggestions of voter confusion. The Legislature slated a new vote for annexation November 5.
Chamblee is one of the few cities in past years to consider annexing a residential area. Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson said the region would be “tax neutral” for the city.
“Chamblee is not interested [in the annexation] other than trying to be accommodating to a group of people that are interested in being a part of our city,” Clarkson said. “It’s 100 percent been driven by the people who live in those neighborhoods.”
But in June, Brookhaven announced plans to annex portions of Century Center, which would bring an additional $3 million yearly tax revenue to the city, according to past tax records. Highwoods Properties, which owns and manages the Century Center facilities, has been in talks with the city about a possible annexation since spring.
Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis said Highwoods initiated the discussion. “They expressed a strong desire for several reasons,” he said. “They found we’ve done things efficiently as a new city and they like the way we conduct our business.”
The Brookhaven vote has been deferred to August 13, if the DeKalb judge allows it to go forward. “I hope we get the right to vote,” said Davis. “We’re following Georgia law. We think the best solution is to work with the two cities and residents involved to come up with an amicable solution.”
Even if Brookhaven is allowed to vote, the annexation may not pass. Residents and some city leaders are concerned about a proposed change in zoning for the center, which opponents say would make it easier for Highwoods to develop in the future.
Brookhaven would be interested in considering an annexation of the Dresden East residential areas in the future, Davis said. “We will consider anybody’s interest in coming into Brookhaven, and consider it seriously.”