City of Chamblee Fixing to Annex Much of the “LaVista Hills” Map (UPDATE 1)
(APN) CHAMBLEE — Tonight, Thursday, February 11, 2016, during a public hearing called for 6:30 p.m., the City of Chamblee City Council will be hearing public testimony on a resolution to express their support for a referendum on whether to annex a northern section of DeKalb County that was formerly part of the proposed City of LaVista Hills (LVH).
UPDATE 1: Mayor Pro Tem Brian Mock (At Large) contacted Atlanta Progressive News to clarify that the Council will not be voting tonight. “Just to be clear, there will be no vote on this resolution tonight. We are still exploring the idea, looking at numbers and talking with citizens. We are not in a position to take action on this item this evening,” Mock said.
The City of Chamblee hosted a Public Information Meeting on Monday, February 08, 2016, to discuss the proposal.
The next meeting will be February 18, 2016 at Lakeside High School and Chamblee’s elected officials are saying they want to hear from their constituents over the next couple weeks.
Some of the organizations that were behind last year’s push for LVH, which failed in a November 2015 referendum, are pushing hard and fast on annexation of those northern precincts that voted yes to cityhood.
After the LaVista Hills cityhood effort failed in a referendum, Mary Kay Woodworth, Co-Chair of LaVista Hills Yes, said that they started to think about their next option on how to become a full service city. Annexation was the answer.
Woodworth expressed a concern that the City of Tucker and the City of Brookhaven would take all the unincorporated commercial areas in that footprint; and then her community would not be an attractive option to be annexed into a full service city like Chamblee. Commercial areas are an important resource for cities’ budgets.
“The area I represent, 61 percent of the people voted yes for cityhood,” State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody), who represents that area of DeKalb County, said at the meeting, referring to the vote on LVH.
So that is how the second rush to cityhood started,, with representatives from LVH and Citizens for Cityhood calling Mayor of Chamblee Eric Clarkson, and asking to be annexed into the city.
The approximate 150 people at the first meeting, mostly from Chamblee, were not as enthusiastic about the annexation as the Mayor.
In fact, a few citizens were downright hostile to the idea. One woman said that people on social media do not want it. Most felt the entire process was too rushed.
There were several verbal complaints about only written questions being allowed.
One man asked for a show of hands on who supports annexation and who does not so our representatives, in the room, can have an idea where we are starting from. That vote did not happen.
State Rep. Scott Holcomb (D-Atlanta) said he learned about the annexation two weeks ago when he got a call from Mayor Clarkson.
Rep. Holcomb explained the process by which the Legislature could set a referendum on annexation.
As previously reported by Atlanta Progressive News, annexations can also be accomplished by petition methods, but that does not appear to be what elected officials are trying to do here.
Holcomb said it would need to be a local legislation bill proposed by the DeKalb Delegation to move forward. A majority of members in both the State House and Senate would need to approve and pass it. It would then go to a November referendum for a vote by the people in the annexed area.
Chamblee residents questioned that process, asking why they do not have a vote in the referendum on annexation.
“That’s how it’s always been done,” Sen. Millar said.
Other concerns from Chamblee residents are that taking approximately 35,000 new residents into their city would dilute city services and raise taxes
Chamblee currently has about 29,000 residents and the annexation would more than double their size.
The proposed map’s western boundary line runs along I-85 down to the southern boundary line, which follows Briarlake Road and then hugs the City of Tucker lines northward to the Gwinnett County line and back to I-85.
Those in the proposed annexed area in support say they want local representation; better roads, sidewalks, and drainage; more parks, and especially their own police force.
Chamblee currently has a ratio of one police officer for every five hundred residents. Chamblee would need to hire many more officers, plus parole cars, and equipment to provide the same police protection to 35,000 additional residents.
Woodworth and Ben Shackleford, Citizens for Cityhood, said that the annexed area can offer Chamblee more people with college degrees, excellent schools, expensive homes, Northlake Mall, underdeveloped commercial space, and Mercer University.
All of these extended services, to more people than is currently living in Chamblee, will cost money. Where that money will come from is unclear.
Marc Johnson, the City Manager, assured the gathering that the tax rate would stay the same or be less. Not everyone in the room was buying that.
Mayor Clarkson said he has more confidence in the Chamblee staff to crunch the numbers, rather than the Carl Vinson Institute, which prepares feasibility studies for cityhood proposals.
Thus, they do not plan to seek a true feasibility analysis of this proposal before a vote. Other financial aspects of the annexation are yet to be revealed.
“So far, what we have been reading on Next Door is negative, but that is a small portion of our population. I need to hear from more people who have questions they need answered, are just on the fence, or are in favor of it,” Chamblee City Councilwoman Leslie Robson (District 2) told APN.
Constituents are urged to talk with their City Council members about how they feel on this annexation, so their voice can be heard.
UPDATE 1 and CORRECTION: As noted above, an earlier version of this article stated that the Council would be voting tonight. However, according to Mayor Pro Tem Mock, there will not be a vote tonight. It is on the agenda for a public hearing.