Hurry up, folks, the municipalization train’s leaving for parts unknown. You and your neighbors don’t want to get left behind in DeKalb County, do you?
It’s time again for the annual pre-legislative jockeying by north/central DeKalb residents to carve out territory to either be incorporated as a new city or annexed by one already rolling along.
Earlier this year, three city movements were left feuding as they picked at DeKalb’s carcass, although their ambitions for self-reliance went unfulfilled.
The arguments for breaking off from unincorporated DeKalb were that county government was a hot mess and the self-reliance afforded by being a city is a must. Not much has changed. There’s been a non-verdict in CEO Burrell Ellis’ corruption trial; Commissioner Elaine Boyer, the self-styled watchdog, pleaded guilty to stealing taxpayer money and a charter system in Druid Hills was rejected by DeKalb’s school system. All that has reinforced many residents’ belief that they must take governance into their own hands.
“There’s a little hysteria, a little panic in the county that if we don’t do something then we’ll be left out,” said former Decatur mayor Bill Floyd, who is serving on a County Governance Committee trying to bail the water out of USS DeKalb.
Floyd is a rangy, level-headed fellow who was at the helm of Decatur as it transformed itself into a hot little gentrified oasis in the midst of all this chaos. So it makes sense he was drawn in to lend a steadying hand.
First thing he did was to help forge a non-aggression pact between the Lakeside cityhood folks and their bitter rivals, the Briarcliff cityhood gang. The two groups coveted much the same territory south of I-85 and their in-fighting became so unbearable that it helped kill Lakeside’s effort. So now the Briarcliff/Lakeside folks are aiming their combined efforts to arm-wrestle with their DeKalb neighbors living outside I-285 in Tucker.
Most people in Tucker were happy going along in their own unincorporated way until they realized Lakeside had designs on land they said was historically theirs. The perceived incursion awoke municipal feelings (many thought they were already a city, but instead, Tucker was only a state of mind.) Now there’s something called Tucker 2015, which wants to formally Tuckerize the territory.
The only problem is Tucker needs money to keep City Hall’s lights burning. So it wants Northlake Mall and some surrounding commercial territory to crank up the tax base. But so does Briarcliff/Lakeside.
The Inside I-285 folks argue, “Hands off Tucker. Where’d you come off barging in here to take our money maker?” But Tucker argues, “We’ve always seen Northlake Mall and the Toys-R-Us next to the Movie Tavern as part of Historic Tucker.” The words “historic” and “Tucker” go together like peanut and butter.
Everybody has an eye on Executive Park
To nip any future unpleasantness in the bud, the two sides are calling in former Mayor Floyd to play Henry Clay (if you remember seventh-grade social studies, he was the Great Compromiser) and come up with an equitable split — you get the Double Tree inn, we get the Best Buy. Legislators want any differences ironed out before Nov. 15 — or they might start drawing lines.
Unfortunately for Briarcliff/Lakeside, on the other side of their proposed town, a big chunk of commercial land in the form of Executive Park, the 1960s office park, has asked to become part of Brookhaven, the city that came into being a couple years ago and swooped down to gobble up Buford Highway because it was desperate for commercial revenue and then, almost immediately after swearing in its first mayor, waged a battle to close the Pink Pony strip club.
The lawyer for Executive Park, Carl Westmoreland, said it’s nothing personal against the not-yet-created city of Briarcliff/Lakeside. Its owners “felt as a business they’d be better served dealing with a known entity,” he said.
Mary Kay Woodworth, leader of what used to be The Lakeside Movement, is not happy with Executive Park spurning the not-yet-to-be-named-or even-approved city of Briarcliff/Lakeside.
“It’s not a killer for our city but every bit chipped away makes a difference” in potential revenue, she said. “Historically, that area has been viewed as part of Lakeside/Briarcliff.”
Naturally, she names Lakeside first. But I can see the hurt in the fledgling city losing prime real estate to a recently incorporated municipality. It’s kind of like losing a date to an upperclassman.
‘Driven by people, not city planners’
State Sen. Fran Millar, the Republican from Dunwoody who this year fought unsuccessfully to carry Lakeside to cityhood, pointed out that some of those creating Dunwoody a few years back wanted to go inside I-285 and grab some prime property.
“I said at the time, ‘If we let them take that area, then the people inside 285 won’t have it.’ Well, that later became Brookhaven,” he said.
He wants Brookhaven officials to hold off voting to allow Executive Park to move into their city until after the legislative session and it becomes clear whether other cities will moved forward. It’s up to Brookhaven officials to make that decision but they might get itchy for some more land because on Thursday the state appeals court ruled in Chamblee’s favor in an annexation battle with Brookhaven concerning the Century Center complex.
Lastly, many residents from the historic (everyone’s “historic”) Druid Hills neighborhood and some to its north are now looking to get annexed into Atlanta after their effort to start a charter school cluster was shot down — again — by DeKalb’s school system. A meeting last week had 300 people at Fernbank Elementary chewing over the prospect of joining up with The Big City.
“The charter cluster was a grassroots thing driven by people, not city planners,” said Matthew Lewis, a leader of the charter school effort. “People see what is possible if they work together.”
Oddly, or perhaps fittingly, the map they published also covets Executive Park.
Millar pondered the thought of once-proud DeKalb County becoming shorthand for Looney Tunes.
“Who’d have thought people would want to be annexed into the city of Atlanta?” Millar said. “How the world has changed.”