Tuesday, May 7, 2013

DeKalb lawmakers and residents meet to discuss competing cityhood plans

Posted By on Tue, May 7, 2013 at 1:25 PM

Close to 300 DeKalb County residents filed into the Clairmont Hills Baptist Church last night to hear lawmakers and community activists discuss the county's growing cityhood movement.

Many citizens have remained up in arms over the past few months as community groups have introduced a flurry of new city plans. Cartographers have liberally carved out borders that, on occasion, clash with other proposals for potential cities such as Lakeside, Briarcliff, Druid Hills, and LaVista Hills, and Stonecrest.

More than a dozen state lawmakers and local elected officials - including State Reps. Mary Margaret Oliver and Pam Stephenson, both from Decatur, as well as Sens. Jason Carter and Fran Millar, of Atlanta and Dunwoody, respectively - all discussed legislation they've introduced and urged cooperation among the different city plans.

Event organizers handed out a sheet breaking down the local governance bills currently on the table:

HB 22 - Primary Sponsor Mary Margaret Oliver. HB 22 sets out additional procedures and enhanced financial requirements for creation of new cities.
HB 619 - Primary Sponsor Mary Margaret Oliver. HB 619 passed in 2013 and allows an area in unincorporated DeKalb that adjoins Chamblee to vote to be annexed into Chamblee.
HB 665 - Primary Sponsor Mary Margaret Oliver. HB 665 is a placeholder bill to create a new city of Briarcliff/Druid Hills.
HB 677 - Primary Sponsor Billy Mitchell. HB 677 would create a new city of Tucker.
HB 687 - Primary Sponsor Pam Ste[p]henson. HB 687 would possibly create a new city of DeKalb.
HB 692 - Primary Sponsor Pam Stephenson. HB [692] limits the ability to annex new areas to existing cities by geography.
SB 270 - Primary Sponsor Fran Millar. SB 270 would create a new city of Lakeside.
SB 275 - Primary Sponsor Jason Carter. SB 275 would create a new city of Lavista Hills.
SB 278 - Primary Sponsor Ron Ramsey. SB 278 would create a new city of Stonecrest.

Yes, that's nine cityhood bills. But most lawmakers at the cityhood meeting said that their proposals were created to allow their constituents to be a part of the ongoing conversation. It would also allow community interest groups to arrange a feasibility study - a new requirement for aspiring municipalities.

By coming together, Oliver said, the conversation could take on a "more coordinated effort." Carter said he proposed a LaVista Hills bill to help his constituents foster a "broad and inclusive" discussion about the movement's larger effects. He said that while he remained "skeptical" about balkanizing DeKalb County, he remained open to discussing the issue in hopes that the process wouldn't become as divisive as Brookhaven in recent years. "It has to have the participation, the faith, and the buy-in of the people," he said.

Millar, a lawmaker well-versed in recent balkanization efforts, added that people are searching for better services that cost less and that they're not trying to secede from the county altogether.

"You have to continue to talk with people," said Millar. "The ideal thing with all these cityhood bills is whether or not people should be given the right to vote on whether or not they want to have their own form of government."

After lawmakers briefly explained their bills, several representatives from the various cityhood groups outlined why they were looking to form their respective cities. Lakeside City Alliance's Bernard Knight said that Lakeside would potentially oversee police, zoning, and parks. Druid Hills resident Bruce MacGregor said schools and land use were the most crucial issues at stake, but insisted his fellow community members were pleased with most county services. "Right now, I think the basic services in DeKalb County are pretty good," says MacGregor. "[But it] doesn't foster a sense of place."

Tucker, Stonecrest, and other cityhood backers all chimed in about their area's needs. Aside from a few people snickering or adding in a well-timed cough, the well-attended meeting remained civil and informative. But there was clearly tension in the air, which prompted the meeting in the first place. It'll be interesting to see how this meeting changes things moving forward. Anyone want to place bets on how long it will take before things get heated again?

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