Thursday, February 9, 2012

Brookhaven, we hardly knew ye, or, What's in a name?

Posted By on Thu, Feb 9, 2012 at 12:56 PM

Photo46467.jpg
  • David Seibert www.hmdb.org
OK, it looks as if there won't be a vote to create the city of Brookhaven, after all. Instead, it'll be called the city of Ashford, as in Ashford & Simpson — er, I mean Ashford-Dunwoody.

The name change, approved by a House committee on Tuesday, took many by surprise, but perhaps it shouldn't have. One lawmaker even asked at last week's Brookhaven hearing whether such a change might appease critics. The fact is, previous incorporation efforts started with a reasonably well-defined area — Sandy Springs, Johns Creek, etc. — and turned it into a municipality. But instead of being about a community seeking a city charter, this campaign seems more like city proponents in search of a community.

Let me explain: My first reaction on seeing a map of the proposed city, with boundaries that stretch all the way from I-285 to I-85, was that I was looking at an attempted land grab. Apparently, I wasn't the only one.

Funny thing is, some of the most effective opposition to a city of Brookhaven wasn't coming from the government of DeKalb County or that of Chamblee, which is rightly concerned that its own ability to expand would be impeded by the creation of a new city. It was coming from Brookhaven — the actual neighborhood.

"Part of the concern about the proposed city is that it extends far beyond what you'd think of as Brookhaven," says Frank Clementi, president of the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association.

Clementi is careful not to take sides personally, but he acknowledges that many Brookhavenites aren't yet sold on a city of Brookhaven. "People are concerned that the use of the name would be too spread out," he explains.

If that seems a superficial concern, consider that for years, Vinings, the upscale, historic, unincorporated community nestled between the Chattahoochee River and the NW Perimeter, has suffered the indignity of having its name borrowed by half the apartment complexes in South Cobb. But there's nothing but good manners to stop someone from swiping the name entirely and creating a city of Vinings wholly outside I-285.

Similarly, the namesake neighborhood of Brookhaven straddles the Fulton-DeKalb county line, with fully two-thirds of its approximately 900 homes located inside the Atlanta city limits. In other words, most Brookhavenites wouldn't get to vote on whether to create a city of Brookhaven.

The map of historic Brookhaven that Clementi sent me shows the neighborhood ending at Peachtree Road to the south and Windsor Parkway to the north. Now, that's much too small a tax base with which to launch a viable city, but critics are worried that the pro-incorporation folks are trying to stretch the Brookhaven brand too thin.

Hence, the switch to Ashford. No one could be upset over giving the proposed city a semi-made-up name, right?

Actually, Laurenthia Mesh, spokesperson for Ashford Neighbors, a group formed in opposition to the creation of a new city, begs to differ. Doh!

According to the group's website, the place name Ashford refers to the neighborhoods surrounding the busy intersection of Ashford-Dunwoody and Johnson Ferry roads and derives from the Ashford Plantation, a sprawling estate that existed before the area was carved up into subdivisions.

Ironically, Mesh says the appropriation of the Ashford name isn't the main reason she and others oppose a new city. In fact, while the pro-city group Brookhaven Yes organized less than a month ago, Ashford Neighbors was formed last March. Mesh says she went door-to-door, personally gathering 500 signatures of neighbors opposed to incorporation.

"We can't understand the rush or even the idea behind it. The people I know who moved here did so because they wanted to live in unincorporated DeKalb," says Mesh, who has lived in different homes within the Ashford area for more than 50 years. "We're happy with DeKalb. We feel like the county police do a great job."

Mesh is hopeful that the Legislature will put Brookhaven on hold long enough to pass House Bill 830, a measure that would create a year-long "waiting period" for the creation of any new city, as well as give more consideration to the affected county and neighboring municipalities. However, since that bill is sponsored by two DeKalb Democrats, it stands a slim chance of going anywhere in the GOP-controlled House.

Still, Mesh believes that there are more people within the proposed boundaries who don't want to form a city — no matter what the place ends up being called — than are in favor of it. Or, at the very least, they'd like to have more time to discuss the options, rather than adhere to the breakneck schedule set forth by city advocate Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-DeKalb, whose bill proposes a July 31 referendum.

Says Mesh: "Every public hearing I've been to, we've been in the majority."

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