Thursday, September 18, 2008

Chamblee To Seek Large Annexation In 2009 by Mary Swint

The unincorporated area in North DeKalb may continue to shrink in 2009 as the City of Chamblee lines up support among legislators for a bill to allow the Huntley Hills and Sexton Woods neighborhoods to vote on joining the city next year.

The annexation would add about 7,000 residents to Chamblee, Mayor Eric Clarkson said. “It would be a revenue neutral annexation. It adds enough tax revenue to offset the expenses to give the same level of services to the new residents. We won’t raise taxes or reduce the level of services to current residents.”

The Carl Vinson Institute, which prepared a feasibility study for Chamblee, reported in the fall of 2006 that the proposed annexation of land west of the city and north up to Interstate 285 would increase the city's land size by 77 percent and expand the population from 9,763 to 16,696.

Fifteen percent of the 700-plus homes in Huntley Hills already are inside the Chamblee city limits and part of the large Sexton Woods neighborhood sits inside the city. “We’re just trying to make our neighborhoods whole,” said Nick Guerrero, a board member of the Huntley Hills Neighborhood Association, who has studied annexation for three years. He noted that when residents inside the city call 911, the police respond from a station about a mile away while their neighbors in unincorporated DeKalb experience a 15 to 30 minute response time from county police farther away, he said, adding that the residents don’t know where the North Precinct will be moved after the City of Dunwoody starts functioning Dec. 1.

“People were very concerned that we would become the red headed stepchildren of North Dekalb,” Guerrero said.

On Nov. 4, about 1500 voters in the Cherokee Hills, Sequoyah Woods, parts of Oakcliff Estates, and neighborhoods north and northwest of QuickTrip at Chamblee-Tucker and I-85 will vote on annexation into Doraville. If the referendum is approved, Doraville’s territory would grow by 66 percent from 3.5 square miles to 5.95 and its population would grow by 72.9 percent from just over 10,000 to 17,072, according to a fiscal analysis that the Carl Vinson Institute in December 2006. The new borders would go into effect Dec. 31, 2008.

For years, the Huntley Hills residents have participated in Chamblee recreation programs. Annexation will give residents more access to government leaders. “It is nice to see the mayor at your children’s T-ball games and it is nice to run into a city council member at a restaurant or while walking your dog,” Guerrero said.

Ten years ago there was a petition drive to get Huntley Hills annexed using a process that required signatures from 60 percent of the landowners and 60 percent of the residents. That annexation plan would have created unincorporated islands in the Rosewood and Gainsborough neighborhoods, which the legislature could not support. “It was a doomed effort from the beginning,” Guerrero added.

When annexation bills were introduced in the General Assembly in February 2007 for Doraville and Chamblee along with a bill to incorporate Dunwoody, the DeKalb Board of Commissioners passed a resolution “vehemently” opposing the three bills, asking the legislature to table the bills and calling analysis and a county-wide referendum.

A survey in August 2007 showed 83 percent of the 150 homeowners in Huntley Hills that responded were in favor of annexation into Chamblee. If Dunwoody became a city, 87 percent said they would favor some form of annexation and 70 percent favored it if Dunwoody did not become a city. The most important factors in considering annexation were police response, change in taxes, responsive government, zoning and sanitation, according to the survey. The survey also showed residents would accept a property tax increase as part of annexation.

“It will be a perfect marriage. It will help both manage growth,” Guerrero said. When the General Motors plant is redeveloped, many developers will come into the area, he added. “It would give us better control over zoning; we’re tired of apartment complexes being built around us. Chamblee has a master plan for zoning and growth. It is a great opportunity for Chamblee to expand its footprint so it will but up to Doraville and they can manage growth along the Peachtree Industrial corridor.”

The survey results were presented to the City Council in October or November to show widespread support for annexation but the matter was postponed until after the city elections.

The city council passed a resolution in February 2008 asking the General Assembly to begin the process of annexing these people, but it was late in the session and the legislation was never introduced, the Mayor said. “We were a little late to the party this year. All the legislators have agreed that if they are re-elected they will work together to move the legislation forward in some form or fashion with the annexation map as it was first introduced three years ago.” Three different legislators represent Huntley Hills, Sexton Woods and Chamblee.

At their meeting on Sept. 14, the Ashford Alliance Community Association, which represents 75 neighborhoods, discussed the annexation proposal that would involve neighborhoods from Huntley Hills to Keswick Park and Ashford Dunwoody Road on the west and Harts Mill Road to the north. “We are in the process of reaching out to other neighborhoods and giving them a heads up,” Guerrero said.

The annexation plan has two parcels. One would take Chamblee boundaries to I-285 and the Doraville city limits; the majority of the land is in Huntley Hills and it includes a cemetery and antique warehouse. The second parcel includes Sexton Woods and would annex the land south of Harts Mill to Ashford Dunwoody.

Guerrero said residents in the Murphy Candler area may want to be included in a third parcel. “It is not going to happen soon. They need to get organized. That may be three years down the road.”

Peachtree DeKalb Airport is not part of the annexation plan, Guerrero added. However, in the interview of a new Chamblee representative for the Airport Advisory Committee on Sept. 16, a county commissioner asked about annexation of the airport.

“Hopefully it will pass this legislative session. Town hall meetings would be held in the spring and the referendum would be held in the July primary time frame in 2009.”

In the meantime, Chamblee is looking for a new city manager to succeed Kathy Brannon, who will retire in June 2009 and the city is working on improvements, including two new pocket parks at an old rail spur and near City Hall as well as new streetscape on Peachtree Boulevard.

Note that tonight (Thursday) is the monthly meeting of the Ashford Alliance, starting at 7 pm, St. Martins Church - Gable Hall- 3110 Ashford Dunwoody Road, Atlanta GA 30319.

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