Proponents take another crack at creating new city in DeKalb

12:00 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 28, 2017 Local

Two years after failing to get enough support for the city of LaVista Hills, proponents are back with a new approach and a new name for what would become DeKalb County’s 14th municipality.

Vista Grove includes most of the LaVista Hills footprint in unincorporated northern DeKalb east of Interstate 85. But several neighborhoods near Emory University, where residents rejected LaVista Hills, are left off the new map.

“We are trying to honor the people who expressed interest in being part of the city versus the people who would rather be parts of unincorporated DeKalb County,” said John Ayoub, one of a half-dozen residents who comprise the core support group for Vista Grove.

Proponents are hoping these new boundary lines and better communication help establish Vista Grove, part of a trend of new municipalities in the Atlanta area that began with Sandy Springs in 2005. Supporters believe that cityhood creates the best opportunities to improve transportation, infrastructure, parks and public safety where they live.

As currently proposed, Vista Grove would be about 16 square miles with roughly 58,000 residents. That would instantly make it DeKalb’s largest city.

“We’ve seen great projects in Brookhaven, in Tucker nearby and in Chamblee,” said Andrew Flake, who serves as a spokesman for the group. “And folks don’t want to miss out on some of that opportunity.”

Flake, Ayoub and the others are in the process of raising up to $30,000 needed for a feasibility study to gauge the economic viability of a new city. That study could be completed by February. Meanwhile, the group also has begun to host community meetings to talk up the proposal.

Most importantly, they need a member of the DeKalb delegation to sponsor a bill at the General Assembly. Flake said the group is hopeful that legislation will be filed during the 2018 session that begins in January, although the process is likely to require two years.

That means the earliest that voters would decide on a new city would be late 2019.

“We understand that it’s important to demonstrate that we have been serious about getting input and being deliberate and fostering dialogue,” Flake said.

Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, is among those who will be courted to sponsor the Vista Grove bill because his district includes some of the targeted neighborhoods. Holcomb said it is too early to tell if the idea is a good one.

“I don’t know how anybody can make a decision that they’re supportive without knowing basic information about whether or not the proposal is economically feasible,” Holcomb said. “There needs to be a finalized map, and my understanding is they’re still working on that. There needs to be community buy-in.”

While the effort to establish Vista Grove is in its infancy, backers of the city of Greenhaven in south DeKalb have been trying for several years. That city would have a footprint of more than 100 square miles and encompass nearly 300,000 residents.

House Bill 644, which would authorize the creation of Greenhaven, was introduced on the last day of the 2017 session and remains an option in 2018. Several groups have sprung up to oppose this city and new municipalities in general, such as DeKalb Strong and Citizens Against Cityhood in DeKalb.

Opponents say establishing more municipalities creates duplicate layers of government and can result in higher taxes. Through her group Concerned Citizens in Opposition to Greenhaven, Claudette Leak argues that citizens who want to improve government should work with the county instead of establishing entities.

“The energy and time that we’re expending on the opposition to creating a new city, we would rather spend that time making DeKalb county better,” Leak said. “Everybody wants better government; creating new cities is not the solution.”


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