Annexed Doraville Businessowners Distressed at Lack of Notice, Liquor Fees, Pour Hours (UPDATE 1
(APN) ATLANTA — The owners of businesses in unincorporated Doraville, the area that lies the northwest of I-85 and north of I-285 just received word from the City of Doraville that as of December 31, 2014, they would be enjoying the benefits of incorporation. Unfortunately, most, if not all, business owners of the impacted area say they had no notice, nor were they given any chance to speak publicly to decisionmakers before legislation was introduced and voted on.
House Bill 1138, regarding the commercial annexation, was passed barely two months into the 2014 Legislation Session and was sponsored by State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta). [There was also a residential annexation, HB 1139, that was the subject of a referendum.]
“While this move wasn’t illegal, it raises many questions about why the city chose to annex and why business owners were not informed,” Linda Dunlavy, an attorney and resident of Doraville, told Atlanta Progressive News. Dunlavy represents many of the business owners in the new annexed areas.
“When I was told by a City official that ‘these people’ never come to meetings, I was shocked. Many of the business owners are Korean, some Pakistani. Not one of these business owners were notified earlier in the year. I have been told that the City told Representative Holcomb that this is what they wanted. This is not true,” Dunlavy said.
Atlanta Progressive News attempted to reach Rep. Holcomb to no avail.
The Mayor of Doraville, Donna Pittman, responded that “the City and the legislature followed all notice of the proposed annexation as required by law. In addition, it was discussed in depth in several publicy (sic) noticed Council Meetings and the subject of significant public comment.”
The business owners of the proposed areas insist, however, they were not notified of the proposed annexation. Notifications have only just started hitting mailboxes, a full ten months after the bill was approved.
In addition, all the notices were posted in English, in possibly the most diverse city in the Metro Area, there is no doubt this ‘oversight’ was on purpose.
[The City of Atlanta also has failed to post language-appropriate signage in at least two recent rezoning proposals, one on Woodland Avenue NE during the failed Cheshire Bridge rezoning, and one on Adina and Morosgo during the current proposed rezoning near Lindbergh Station. Both communities are heavily populated by Hispanic families with limited English-reading capacity.]
“When the Economic Development Director was questioned about why the annexation, he indicated that Doraville had no ‘burning desire’ to annex these businesses, but felt the City needed to do it as a ‘protective measure’ because if they didn’t do it, some other new City would incorporate these businesses into the boundaries,” Dunlavy said.
“The business owners do not want to be in Doraville and in fact the residential areas immediately adjacent to these owners on Buford Highway resoundingly rejected a referendum for annexation into Doraville this past election cycle,” Dunlavy said.
One theory of why this happened so quickly and quietly is that by adding large land tracts of commercial and industrial land–with their strong corporate tax base–to the City’s coffer will allow them to have a better bond rating for the purposes of infrastructure and services, which Doraville needs badly.
The unfortunate flipside is that for businesses that need liquor licenses, they now need to go through the City of Doraville, regardless if they filed with DeKalb County. The business owner will not likely get a refund for the County license and now must spend additional money for a City license. For a full service bar or restaurant, a liquor license with the City of Doraville costs four thousand dollars.
“What’s so irking about the situation is the way they go about doing it. It’s government by ambush. They got the State to pass a bill in March . They have never notified anyone of anything. I got something in the mail, a welcome letter, last week… an application for an occupational tax,” David Howard of Meridian Property Group told APN. Howard manages properties for his client, Mr. Lee, who owns the International Village Shopping Center and Park.
“Mr. Lee got a hand delivered Xerox letter. We’re not sure who brought it. The zoning is being changed to Doraville, with no notice about zoning changes. We found something out on the City’s agenda on December 15th. Three weeks out and no notice has been given,” Howard said.
For business owners like Lee, their livelihoods are on the line. Lee owns ten businesses that have liquor licenses. For Lee, that will cost 40,000 dollars.
A large banquet hall is the predominant space in the Center, where private parties can reserve a room for up to 500 people. Lee also rents to almost a dozen bars and restaurants in unincorporated Dekalb, or what will be annexed in Doraville.
“The pour time is til 4 [a.m.] in DeKalb; you can’t do that in Doraville. The business that occurs is between 2 and 4 a.m. This could run off all of his tenants, he’s going to have to file bankruptcy,” Howard said.
“When annexation happened in January of 2013, two portions on the northern side were annexed. Those businesses didn’t change their pour time and they are still in business,” Shawn Gillen, City of Doraville City Manager, told APN.
“When you look at the area, it’s a jagged boundary with different levels of code enforcement and different zoning that didn’t match up. There are public safety issues, enforcing codes and laws in the annexation area next to our City. The area doesn’t technically create islands; it’s a difficult task for different jurisdictions of that area; it made sense to annex,” Gillen said.
Discovering how many businesses were affected by the annexation will be difficult because, according to Devany, “DeKalb has not responded to an Open Records Request from the City of Doraville.”
“Notifications were sent to the twelve businesses we had addresses for, for the public hearing on zoning on December 15th and Special Meeting the night of December 31st at 12:01 a.m., both are public meetings,” Gillen said.
“The City of Doraville has no immediate plans for bonding for infrastructure… we are a pay as you go system. There will be five additional police hired, coming on at once. We just added more code enforcement in anticipation of the annexation, half-time at a full-time equivalent. We ramped that up at the first of the year,” Gillen told APN.
Whether or not business owners fill the room on December 15, the annexation is moving ahead as scheduled. Unlike the other annexation attempts that Atlanta Progressive News has reported on, this appears to be the only attempt that completely neglected the community and offered no little to no dialogue between city officials, state officials, and business owners.
The City of Doraville told APN that the commercial area will not be part of any Council District and will not be represented by any one Councilperson.
Mayor Pro Tem Maria Alexander (District 3) told APN she had not heard of any complaints from business owners regarding liquor pouring hours, liquor licensing fees, or lack of notice of annexation.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misspelled in one instance Ms. Dunlavy’s last name. The current version of the article has corrected the misspelling.