Three Cityhood Movements–Briarcliff, Lakeside, Tucker–Vie for State Support
(APN) ATLANTA — This legislative session, there are three cityhood attempts in DeKalb County that would have an adverse effect on DeKalb County Government.
Four feasibility studies were conducted last year for a City of Briarcliff, Lakeside, Stonecrest, and Tucker. From those four, three emerged with positive feasibility studies; Stonecrest did not.
In addition, the area in DeKalb County known as North Druid Hills is also examining their options to either annex into the City of Atlanta or become part of the Briarcliff effort.
With last year’s Placeholder bill passed, it is now up the each of these efforts to agree on boundaries, services, and budget, if they can. At last call, the only thing each group could agree on is what they perceive to be the need to take control from DeKalb County.
DeKalb County Government has been rife with corruption from the highest posts in the county for many years. DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis has been indicted on numerous felonies, including bribery, conspiracy, extortion, and theft.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, last year DeKalb County citizens expressed their frustration with the Commission over zoning and land use decisions involving a controversial Walmart that is currently the subject of citizen-led litigation; and another project on Clairmont Road.
However, some citizens said they believed incorporation was still not necessary; and that they needed to get more involved in participating in advocacy to reform DeKalb County Government, rather than incorporate.
State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur), part of the DeKalb County Delegation to the State House, has been working with all the groups, encouraging them to come together on the basics mentioned above.
“The Speaker [of the House] doesn’t want to get involved. It’s up to the DeKalb Delegation,” Charlie Sterne, Chief of Staff for Representative Oliver, told APN.
“Some legislators [from the DeKalb Delegation] have expressed a desire for the three cityhood groups in northern DeKalb to work out the overlapping boundaries, while others are divided into opposing camps of allowing residents to vote on cityhood and others fighting to prevent the citizens from voting,” Mary Kay Woodworth, Chairman of the Lakeside Cityhood effort, told APN.
“With specific regard to Lakeside, there is strong support from our legislative sponsor in the Senate, Fran Millar, and from our House sponsor, Tom Taylor, and we expect to have our proposal approved for the voters to express their desire at the voting booth this year,” Woodworth said.
Since the City of Sandy Springs incorporated in Fulton County in 2005, there has been a succession of new cities almost every year, including Johns Creek, Milton, and Chattahoochee Hills in Fulton County; Brookhaven and Dunwoody in DeKalb County; and Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett.
There is some dissention among each effort. The short Legislative Session, wrought with controversial bills, will not leave much room for the sprints to cityhood. This will likely result in groups elbowing each other off the track.
“Some have suggested that our proposal is just an effort to block the competing Lakeside proposal. That suggestion is not just insulting, it is completely false. Our volunteers have invested thousands of hours because we believe that Briarcliff is a better idea,” Allen Venet, President of the Briarcliff cityhood effort, said, according to a recent blog on the Atlanta Journal-Constitution website.
According to an op-ed posted by “Frannie D.” in the North Druid Hills Patch, there are several reasons to prefer Briarcliff to Lakeside:
“1. Briarcliff and Tucker initiatives will be able to co-exist peacefully and cooperatively, respecting each area’s history and sense of place,” D. wrote.
“2. The Briarcliff map is based on the idea of encompassing all unincorporated areas–simple, real boundaries that we already identify with. LCA’s [Lakeside Community Alliance’s] map excludes Emory, Medlock, and North Druid Hills, an area that is an integral part of our community by profession and affinity,” D. wrote.
“3. University areas are proven stability factors for a community. Keeping Emory and CDC as an integral part of the plan provides a safety net for our property values,” D. wrote.
“4. LCA by design has drawn itself to be a relatively homogenous, suburban city. Its very name reveals that its focus is the Lakeside high school community. And while there’s nothing wrong with that–I am concerned that this conscious suburban spin belies an old school suburban vision, not the New Urbanism that prioritizes the trend to build a better walkable/bike able/green/connected community. That is the future we should all be working toward, as ATL and Decatur are. If LCA was suddenly in charge of my intown area’s zoning, I am not currently optimistic they would work actively toward this essential vision. Without it, our desirability as a neighborhood will decrease as buyers look to more forward-thinking areas,” D. wrote.
“5. Briarcliff study was 98% funded by citizens and neighborhood groups, unlike LCA,” D. wrote.
“6. One can not rule out the possibility that there could be some Gerrymandering at play with LCA, who were funded more by lobbyists and lawyers than the communities, and limits itself to a traditionally Republican demographic. (Sen. Millar, sponsor of LCA, has stated only Republican-led effort will pass. Is this connected?),” D. wrote.
There was some controversy when the originally proposed map for the City of Lakeside included the part of Tucker in north DeKalb County, where Northlake Mall is located.
What has historically been known as Tucker is an area that includes part of DeKalb and Gwinnett counties.
“The Tucker cityhood group has proposed a very limited menu of services for their proposed city, including parks and recreation, as well as zoning and land use. Interestingly, the group has not proposed providing police services, which is the chief issue that we have heard over and over again at our meetings and through regular communications we receive,” Woodworth said.
“It’s been reported and we’ve heard that Governor Deal’s office is warm to the idea of the proposed City of Tucker because we are united behind a map that makes sense, and are demographically and politically diverse,” Anne Lerner, of the Tucker effort, said.
County governments have evolved to provide what are typically perceived as city services to areas of those counties that have been unincorporated.
When an area wants to incorporate, they have to select at least three services that they will provide, instead of the county. For the remaining services that the city does not choose to provide, the county will likely provide those.
Tucker would be responsible for Planning and Zoning, Code Enforcement, and Parks and Recreation. Lakeside would have expenditures for public safety, zoning and land use, public works and parks and recreation. Briarcliff would provide public safety, parks and recreation, planning and zoning, building code/enforcement, and roads and streets.
All boast a surplus in their first year of operation according to their own feasibility study.
All the efforts claim that the grassroots and community support will take them across the finish line.
“Tucker citizens, through volunteer civic and business groups, have been successfully partnering with DeKalb County for year (on existing county services), so the experience and expertise is local. Building a solid foundation on services Tucker citizens are already actively engaged in ensures a stable start-up for the City of Tucker,” Lerner said.
“I cannot speak for the other cityhood groups, but the Lakeside City Alliance is thriving, having been active for over a year, and gaining support every day in the wake of over 75 community meetings and door-to-door leafleting efforts,” said Woodworth.
The North Druid Hills effort is not nearly as active as the efforts for Briarcliff, Lakeside, or Tucker.
According to Justin Critiz, President of the Druid Hills Civic Association, the area is so big and varied that it is likely they will support Briarcliff or do nothing at all.
One hundred and ten thousand people live in the proposed Briarcliff area; 63,000 live in Lakeside and 28,000 live in Tucker.