LaVista Hills Cityhood Proposal Moves Forward, despite Border Disputes
With additional reporting by Barbara Payne.
(APN) ATLANTA — Voter referenda for proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker, both in north DeKalb County, are moving forward to be on the November 2015 ballot, despite a conflict between the proposed maps for LaVista Hills and City of Atlanta annexation of Druid Hills neighborhood.
City of Atlanta annexation efforts involving Druid Hills, as well as South Fulton, both stalled in this year of the session. As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, in part Atlanta annexation of South Fulton failed because of conflicts with the proposed City of South Fulton.
In what appears to be a hypocritical set of actions and inactions, the Legislature approved LaVista Hills despite border disputes with the City of Atlanta, while using border disputes with the City of Atlanta as a rationale to delay action on the City of South Fulton proposal.
Moreover, the Republican-led Legislature broke its own rules with regard to the creation of cities, in order to approve the LaVista Hills proposal, State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-Decatur) tells APN.
LaVista Hills’s emergence as a Republican priority is also evident in the fact that two of the four co-sponsors of LaVista Hills were Republicans not representing DeKalb County.
HB 520, City of LaVista Hills, was sponsored by State Rep. Tom Taylor (R-Dunwoody), Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta), Barry Fleming (R-Harlem), and Ed Rynders (R-Albany).
The LaVista Hills referendum passed the House on April 02, 2015, in a vote of 112 to 52, and the Senate also on April 02, in a vote of 36 to 8.
As previously reported by APN, the Mason Mill and Medlock neighborhoods were removed from the proposed LaVista Hills map so they could be considered as part of a City of Atlanta annexation, should that be revisited next year, as is likely.
But this did not completely eliminate the border disputes with the City of Atlanta, or with Tucker for that matter.
The LaVista Hills and Tucker disputes were some of the most contentious under the Dome for the past two years. The tug-of-war over boundaries has kept both groups from seeing eye to eye.
“Although the map that was approved does not reflect the entirety of the traditional boundaries of the Tucker community because of changes made by Sen. Fran Millar, Tucker remains a solid community that we can all be proud of,” Tucker 2015 said in a statement.
“We are heartbroken that many of you find yourselves removed from the Tucker map. Remember you will always be a part of the greater Tucker community – city boundaries will never change that,” Tucker 2015 said.
“There is a obviously a movement for municipalization in the Metropolitan area,” Rep. Oliver said.
“Our current rules relating to the multiple ways that annexation may be accomplished, and the changing rules based on new incorporations, are simply in conflict and not workable,” Oliver said.
“We do not have any process that’s being respected in relation to conflicting borders,” Oliver said.
“The House Government Affairs Committee, which I’ve been on ten years, attempted to impose two sets of rules on border disputes, and neither of the rules were honored,” Oliver said.
“I think our process is flawed, I think we recognize that. Both the House and Senate have been calling for study committees over the summer and I have been asking the Georgia Municipal Association to step forward with recommendations,” Oliver said.
“Prior to the 2015 Session, the Chairman of the Government Affairs Committee appointed a Special Committee to set the border on one area between LaVista Hills and Tucker. We spent a lot of time and energy, I got one thousand emails, people honored that process,” Oliver said.
“When the Session came in, we basically ignored that border, and made a last minute compromise,” Oliver said.
“The first day, the Government Affairs Committee met and said if there’s a border dispute, a new city or annexation won’t go forward. I objected when LaVista went forward,” Oliver said, referring to LaVista Hills border disputes with the City of Atlanta and Tucker.
A last-minute compromise involved removing parts of Mason Mills and Medlock neighborhoods from the proposed LaVista Hills map, because those neighborhoods are asking to annex into the City of Atlanta.
However, this did not completely address the border dispute with the City of Atlanta. “It was partially solved, not totally solved,” Oliver said.
“It should have been resolved prior to it being allowed to go forward. It wasn’t. We had a dispute going on ‘til the last day, which took up the time and energy of the entire body,” Oliver said.
“The purpose of the rule was to give transparency to the process, so people know what they’re voting on, and to make it more knowable to the citizens,” Oliver said.
State Sen. “Fran Millar did not accept the map that was drawn by the Special Committee, he asserted his own map,” Oliver said.
“Both of those communities [Medlock and Mason Mill] were very much adamant against, so it was in LaVista Hills’s interest to let them out. We just didn’t do it in a clean way – a small part of each are still included in the LaVista Hills map. They feel their communities have been divided wrongly by the LaVista Hills map,” Oliver said.
DRUID HILLS ANNEXATION
When State Rep. Pat Gardner (D-Atlanta) introduced her legislation for City of Atlanta annexation of Druid Hills, State Reps. Howard Mosby (D-Atlanta) and Rahn Mayo (D-Decatur) raised procedural concerns, beginning with the fact that Gardner does not represent DeKalb County.
State Rep. “Pat Gardner out of Fulton County dropped a bill to annex Druid Hills into Atlanta. We were arguing over who should have jurisdiction. Should it be the DeKalb County delegation, or should it be the Atlanta delegation, and if it is the Atlanta delegation, should it be someone in the Atlanta delegation in DeKalb County?” Rep. Mosby told APN.
“We knew Druid Hills was sitting out there, and we in the Dekalb County Delegation wanted to make sure we had a say so,” Mosby said, adding that their effort to change the delegation’s rules to do so was not successful.
Mosby said he did not believe annexation would be the best thing for Druid Hills, citing “a substantial increase in sewer and water rates” and the end of a “senior tax exemption for school taxes,” that would occur should the neighborhood join Atlanta and leave unincorporated DeKalb.
“Once LaVista Hills passes, they’re [Republicans] not going to care about DeKalb County,” Mosby said.
“We are indeed gearing up for the referendum,” Allen Venet of LaVista Hills Yes told APN.
“Then, those of us who believe that cityhood will benefit our area and all of DeKalb County, need to campaign for a winning referendum next November. Our focus is shifting from the General Assembly, back to the wider community. To be successful we need to reach out and convince as many voters as possible, and we are excited about the opportunity and the challenge of the coming months,” Venet said.