Proposed New Cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker Both Want Northlake Area
By Gloria Tatum and Barbara Payne
(APN) ATLANTA — It seems the prize of 23,000 North DeKalb County residents and the lucrative Northlake commercial district is still up for grabs. The cityhood effort that comprised the former proposed cities of Briarcliff and Lakeside, now merged as LaVista Hills, could not resolve the proposed boundary lines with the proposed city of Tucker.
“Contrary to recent public accounts, Tucker 2015 did offer concession in an effort to reach a compromise. None of the concessions offered by either side were acceptable to the other group,” Anne Lerner, one of the leaders in Tucker 2015, told Atlanta Progressive News.
Now the whole mess has been dumped in the lap of the House Governmental Affairs Subcommittee of the Georgia Legislature to draw boundary lines so there is no overlap. The five state representatives appointed for this task are Chairman, State Rep. Buzz Brockway (R-Lawrenceville), and Reps. Mark Hamilton (R-Cumming), Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), Howard Mosby (D-Atlanta), and Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur).
The Subcommittee has until December 31, 2014, to reach a consensus with three members approving a map or the cityhood issue will start over.
“That map might be LaVista Hills and Tucker, it might be LaVista Hills only or it might be Tucker only,” Rep. Hamilton said at a recent hearing attended by APN on Wednesday, December 03, 2014.
Some residents who live outside of I-285 perimeter and in the disputed area, spoke for inclusion in LaVista Hills, while others in the same area chose inclusion in Tucker.S
The LaVista Hills group cited public safety and their desire for a city police department as their primary motivation. They also believe that education and services will be better with the new city.
Currently there are two DeKalb County police precincts in Tucker’s map.
“Crime in our area last year was down eighteen percent on top of a decrease the year before,” Frank Auman, Tucker 2015, explained.
The Tucker group cited the sense of community cohesiveness and did not want well-established neighborhoods to be divided and to separate people from their neighbors. They feel that basic services in DeKalb County, including police services, serve their needs.
Unlike the newly proposed LaVista Hills, which is a giant grouping of neighborhoods that do not necessarily identify themselves as together, Tucker is a large historic community that many people do not realize is not already a city in the first place.
The issue of boundary lines has already turned some neighbors against each other, as passions flair.
Meanwhile, a third group of residents who lives inside I-285 and are included in the LaVista Hills map, would prefer to continue living in unincorporated DeKalb County.
“All of the people who spoke in favor of LaVista Hills live outside the perimeter, and the majority of people [in the proposed new city] live inside the perimeter. It’s hard to find people inside the perimeter supportive of LaVista Hills. If this goes to a referendum, it will get voted down,” Marjorie Snook, a resident who lives inside the perimeter, said.
The subcommittee members asked the cityhood representatives to explain how they drew their city boundary lines and why they should get the disputed area.
“When we drew the map, we were driven by three things: one was the no island rule that forced us to leave out some areas where folks support us. We tried to divide the commercial property sensibility. We followed what the people in the neighborhood wanted whether they wanted to be included or excluded,” Allen Venet, Co-Chair, LaVista Hills Yes, told the Subcommittee.
LaVista Hills’s proposed boundaries have changed, and probably will continue to change, as more annexation looms as a possibility and other communities want to opt out of cityhood.
“Our demonstration to change the map shows that we are listening to the residents,” Mary Kay Woodward, Co-Chair, LaVista Hills, said.
The Laurel Ridge Shamrock Civic Association conducted a survey of 805 homes; 217 responded with a 71 percent preference to remain unincorporated and a wish to opt out of LaVista Hills, according to Susan McWethy, who presented the survey to the Subcommittee.
Tucker said they drew their boundary lines using the federal recognized census information which designates Tucker as a place and the federal zip code area for Tucker.
Tucker has a long 125 year history as an established community.
“Businesses in Tucker formed a Community Improvement District (CID), a self-taxing district, to devote the money to developing Tucker. Sixty seven businesses in the Northlake/Tucker area voted to attach themselves to the existing CID and coordinate their efforts along this corridor,” Mr. Auman of Tucker 2015 told the Subcommittee.
“The map we’ve been working with since the beginning of the cityhood process is inclusive and well-balanced demographically and economically, with a mix of residential, commercial, retail, and industrial properties. Our feasibility study proves this to still be true because it is based on the current map of Tucker that remains very much like it did when cityhood was first proposed,” Lerner told APN.
Rep. Oliver said she planned to pay attention to all the possible annexations in her district.
“If we are not going to require additional feasibly studies, if we are going to allow modifications on unknown annexations, then financial data on commercial areas becomes more relevant to me as we move forward preparing for viable cities,” Rep. Oliver said.
A LaVista Hills representative assured the Subcommittee that their research and calculations on the value of each commercial and industrial area to determine revenue contributions and information from the Carl Vinston Institute study proves the viability of their map.
Tucker has already cooperated with its neighbors and does not face the problem of losing parts of their map to annexation.
It is important to note also that the proposed Tucker map does not go into Gwinnett County, even though historic Tucker does extend into Gwinnett
“If we can get Tucker passed as a city, and Gwinnett portions want to be annexed later that can be done. To do that now is complicated and would probably ruin our chances,” Auman told APN.
Rep. Hamilton asked each group if they were still prepared to become a city, if they did not get the Northlake overlap area.
Tucker said yes. [Editor’s note: In a King Solomon parable analogy, this would make Tucker the real mother.]
LaVista Hills said yes with a caveat.
“We would have serious questions about financial viability, if the commercial property went elsewhere… If the Brookhaven annexations goes forward, if the City of Atlanta [annexation of North Druid Hills] proposal goes as far as the Toco Hills Shopping Center, if the City of Tucker gets all of Northlake and interstate business, it would leave LaVista Hills with very little commercial base… It’s a hot mess,” Venet said.
Another resident expressed concerns that all the annexations plus LaVista Hills would starve central DeKalb and south DeKalb to death.
“Even if a new city could prove viable, adding another layer of government will not help. We do not have a failure of basic services in DeKalb. What has failed is a lack of accountability in central government but that can be changed,” Dianne Medlock Joy, a Sagamore Hills resident, said.