DeKalb residents divided over city of Lakeside

State Senate OKs Lakeside plan, but resident opinions are all over the map.

Backers of a proposed city of Lakeside scored their first victory last week when the state Senate embraced their plans for a new city over the objections of DeKalb County, and competing efforts to create cities in Briarcliff and Tucker.

Across an eight-mile swath of north-central DeKalb, however, the battle still rages, judging from opinions gathered at random from more than two-dozen residents. Those supporting Briarcliff and Tucker cities say Lakeside is a juggernaut that has bulldozed opponents because of Republican political muscle exercised by its godfather, State Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta.

Berkeley Boone, a retired insurance supervisor, lives on scenic, woodsy land on Henderson Road outside I-285 and is incredulous his property is anything other than Tucker — a view he and many other residents there express with yard signs.

“This is Tucker,” he stated unequivocally last week. “We’re geographically a part of Tucker. It is an entity. It has a main street, a business district. It has Jaycees.

“Lakeside has a high school, a zip code and,” he paused for effect, “Fran Millar. I don’t mind a city of Lakeside. I just don’t want it in Tucker.”

Boone was one of about 30 people interviewed last week when an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter drove across the proposed municipality and spoke with residents at random.

The two-day journey found a wide range of views and deeply held emotions. Some residents said they were barely aware what’s going on (although most have heard something.) Some said they wanted more self-governance. Others have a desperate need to protect their interests from a dysfunctional DeKalb County government. Some liked forging a relationship with the high-scoring Lakeside High School. And, finally, there was resentment that Lakeside had plowed through opposition, and drafted neighborhoods that don’t want in while leaving other areas behind.

If the state House also adopts the Lakeside plan and it’s approved by the governor, a referendum inside the proposed city limits would be held May 20.

The proposed city’s western boundary is the intersection of Lavista and Briarcliff roads, with a Whole Foods and a Starbucks hinting to residents’ spending power and tastes. A drive east on Lavista passes the Beth Jacob synagogue and another new one across the road under construction, as well as the long-standing Toco Hill shopping center.

A couple of flourishing strip malls in the popular Oak Grove area lie a mile east. Then there are more 1960s neighborhoods and the Northlake Mall area, which remains a point of contention with Tucker residents who feel the tax-generating commercial area was stolen away from them.

The proposed city also includes a large residential area outside I-285, where divisions over cityhood resemble pre-Civil War Missouri. The southern area has many yard signs touting Tucker cityhood. But go north toward I-85, Lakeside’s northern boundary, and the yard signs ballyhoo Lakeside.

Cathy Nelson lives near Henderson Park, which has a Tucker address. Nelson’s address is Atlanta. Her son attends Lakeside High and she is solidly behind the Lakeside effort.

“We want to be a part of Lakeside; we want to be a part of something,” she said. “We don’t trust DeKalb County. I realize the city of Lakeside won’t have it’s own school. But it might one day.”

‘Looped in’

The issue has barely bubbled up in Merry Hills, a quirky 1950s neighborhood near Toco Hill. The neighborhood is mostly known for a mainly Jewish population living near the intersection of Merry and Christmas lanes.

Janna and Richard Mansker were enjoying the afternoon on their porch overlooking the street sign with tinsel and Christmas ornaments. They say the issue hadn’t taken hold yet in the neighborhood, although they expect it will.

Janna, a management consultant, said the neighborhood “kind of got looped in” Lakeside by its organizers and is ambivalent about the proposal. She is a board member at the private Cliff Valley School nearby and said many parents there are ardent cityhood supporters.

“If it goes for a (referendum) we’ll hear more about it,” she said. “I think our friends in Sagamore (Hills, an area that seems to welcome the idea) would work hard to sway us. They’re fed up with DeKalb government and want to start something of their own.”

Nearby at the popular Bagel Palace deli in the Toco Hill shopping center, co-owner Joe Weiner is firm: “I think it’s foolishness. It’s another level of bureaucracy we don’t need. Look at (the newly created city of) Brookhaven. One of the first things they did is they want to close the Pink Pony (strip club). It doesn’t create crime. They’ll just lose jobs.”

A mile east is a small strip mall in the Oak Grove area where talk of cityhood is hot.

Constantine Mihalis owns the beer growler store and hears a lot from his customers supporting both Lakeside and Briarcliff. Mihalis said it was tough for him to jump through the bureaucratic hoops of the county to get licenses for his business and hopes a city may streamline that process.

Of the two city movements, “Lakeside seems to have more juice,” he said. “Lakeside is the only one to say what they want to do. Briarcliff comes in to say how much they hate Lakeside.”

The original Briarcliff plan basically included all unincorporated DeKalb neighborhoods north of Decatur, with Atlanta its western boundary, I-85 its northern edge and I-285 on the east. Lakeside did not include many neighborhoods north of Decatur, leaving unincorporated islands between Lakeside and Decatur.

“Why can’t we put it all together?” asked Nicol Turner, co-owner of the Oak Grove Market, a neighborhood meeting place. “It’s a big, old deal about who’s better.”

Her business would be in Lakeside but her home would fall into the unincorporated “island.”

Customer Karen Gravitt, who owns the nearby Soge hair salon, likes Briarcliff’s inside-the-perimeter boundaries. “If (Lakeside’s) boundaries stay the same, I’ll vote ‘no.’”

Leafmore neighborhood resident Amy Parker, who has a box of Briarcliff signs in her hallway, said the “Lakeside map seems so exclusionary. We said to Lakeside, ‘Take all this area (south of the proposed city and north of Decatur) and we’ll go with you.’ Of course, no one wants to call it ‘Lakeside.’”

Lakeside backers say that city, which would approach 100,000 residents, would be too big to govern. Many Briarcliff supporters say Lakeside organizers think the residents just north of Decatur are too Democratic and might vote against the plan.

Monica Newsome got involved in local politics when she helped a successful effort to remove some DeKalb school board members. She has a Lakeside sign in front of her home and has helped with the effort.

She said she knows a new city can’t control schools but added that a now-stalled legislative proposal would allow new cities to start their school districts, a move many pro-city supporters covet.

“My thought is start with a city; something we can control,” said Newsome, who worries the Briarcliff effort might derail the Lakeside plan.

“People don’t care which group (becomes a city); it’s just time for a change,” she said. “I would be for either. I’m for something.”

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