The Cycle of Continued Annexation: Why We Need a Vote on City Formation Now

If we want to move the Vista Grove area to an integrated city-county form of government, the time to do so is going to be 2021.

Why it important that we make this choice now?

While no one has a crystal ball, we see the ongoing trend of losing businesses and residents to annexations. And we know the forces that impel city creation, expansion, and growth are and have been set in motion. For a variety of reasons, and lacking their own city as an alternative, businesses and neighborhood areas continue  to move from unincorporated DeKalb into nearby cities. 

Remaining in the ever-shrinking unincorporated area is not a viable long-term option any longer. 

The reality is that cities, and the city-county form of government, is here to stay. We are already surrounded by areas with a city-county form of government: Brookhaven, Atlanta, Decatur, Chamblee, Tucker. Through annexations into those cities, the remaining unincorporated area, of which we are a part, continues to dwindle.

Over the past five years, this march of annexation has continued and its pace accelerated: Briarcliff Village annexed itself into Tucker. Northlake Mall annexed itself into Tucker. Emory University annexed property into the city of Atlanta. Brookhaven has, through annexation, continued to move down the North Druid Hills corridor. 

When those businesses move into nearby cities, the neighborhoods near them feel pressure. They want a means to influence development that may impact them. That pressure often pushes them to move. Lavista Park, which moved an extremely large residential area into Brookhaven, is a recent example. 

To be clear, these are not cities forcing businesses and neighborhoods to move. These are choices those businesses and neighborhoods are making for their own reasons, including pressures generated as a result of this cycle of annexation.

As further annexation continues, eating away at the borders, it will also sap financial resources and limit the options of a new city. Right now, a new city would rest on a strong revenue base and diverse sources of revenue. But when commercial annexations occur, we lose the ability, by spending at local businesses who then contribute through their own license and tax payments to the area, to reinvest in ourselves.

Is there any reason to think this process will simply stop on its own?

It does not seem realistic to think so -- or to hope that we can remain, as is, in an unincorporated area that will not continue to shrink. While it would be nice to have more time, we have reached the tipping point in DeKalb. The benefits of cityhood are too visible, the expansion plans to existing cities too advanced, the demands of a growing population in this community too pressing. 

Far more likely is that, the cycle of annexation of commercial, and compelled neighborhood annexations, continues as it has. If so, it will progressively work its way from the borders of our area inside, creating a shrinking residential doughnut hole at the center.

What is more, while annexation has been happening thus far parcel by parcel, at some point our legislators might be asked to consider a proposal for a larger expansion of existing city borders. Current cities have already commissioned the Carl Vinson Institute at the University of Georgia to begin studying what overall municipalization would look like for the county as a whole. 

There is one solution to piecemeal loss of businesses and neighborhood annexations, or to a proposal to have existing city borders swallow Vista Grove: Through a vote, through the thoughtful creation of our own city, one that reflects specific community priorities, we can shape our own plans.

If you agree, please take a moment to write to both of your legislators (State Representative and Senator), letting them know the following:

"I live in the Vista Grove area, and I am concerned with the process of continued annexation. I would like a choice about our form of local government and an opportunity to vote on city formation for Vista Grove. Please support legislation, like the Harrell-Parent bill, that will permit that vote in 2021."

You can find your Representative's and Senator's e-mail and phone number by clicking here and entering your address. Please not only e-mail, but take a moment to call their office and let them know you support Vista Grove and want to vote on city formation in 2021.

Add your reaction Share

Giving Voice to Vista Grove: The Process of City Creation Continues

With your help and continued engagement, and that of so many members of this community, the process of creating a new City of Vista Grove continues to move forward! 

Here’s where we are: The 2020 legislative session, which just concluded after some COVID-related delay, was an important one. Recognizing the important role of city government in our area, two of our seasoned local legislators--Senators Sally Harrell and Elena Parent, with support and assistance from Representative Mary Margaret Oliver--sponsored and introduced legislation to incorporate Vista Grove. This is the first time that these well-respected and thoughtful legislators have introduced a cityhood bill for our area, and they are committed to making sure that conversation about cityhood is thoughtful, positive, and well-informed. 

Read more
Add your reaction Share

Vista Grove Moving Forward / Senate Bill 507

 

As we e-mailed at the end of April, these are curious times we live in and the world as we knew it has changed. These days, it is no longer safe to be in close connection with one another: families are re-organizing their lives to accommodate their children no longer in school, community meetings are being conducted through video conference, workers find themselves home and anxious, or working and anxious, and restaurants and other businesses are trying to make this new reality work while being responsible citizens and employers. Neighbors on daily walks wave and say hello to one another from a safe distance of six feet or more, and it is with caution that we venture to places like the grocery store and gas station. 

 Things have happened so quickly that there has been little time to mourn what was, and will come. We do not know.  And yet, in these changing times, there are extraordinary acts of courage and bravery; as seen among the health professionals who work extraordinary hours to support those who can no longer support themselves. There is hope to be found in the valiant efforts to get supplies and equipment to hospitals, and in the way neighbors extend their support to one another - spreading hope and care in the messages they share.

 These acts of caring and support for our loved ones and neighbors, for all of those like health professionals on the front line, have to be priorities right now for us, and for our elected representatives. Important issues related to the creation of a new city will need to wait for a time. Due to the scope and magnitude of the current crisis, our legislators have other matters that do, and rightly should, take priority over the creation of our city. 

Be assured that the process is moving forward and those of you who are enthusiastic about the city of Vista Grove can get excited about our future prospects. The Senate Bill for Vista Grove was introduced this past session - Senate Bill 507. Senators Elena Parent and Sally Harrell have sponsored the bill, with support in the House from Representative Mary Margaret Oliver.  Although the bill will need to be taken up again next legislative session, we all can and should continue to advocate for our city, where appropriate.

 This is, for all of us, uncharted territory. In closing the legislative session early to protect the representatives and state citizens from coronavirus, time frames and normal legislative business were upended. 

 For now, we want you to know that we have thoughtful sponsorship of the bill from seasoned local legislators, and they have committed to advance conversation on building a city.

In the meanwhile, we will need your help in whatever capacity you have to offer. At some point, you may receive a call from the Vista Grove Initiative, and when that call comes, we hope you will say yes to helping us help our legislators know that, for us, the desire for a city of Vista Grove is alive and active.

 Continue to make your family and community safety a priority, as best you can. Reach out a hand of help, where you can. Keep businesses working with your patronage, when you can. Thank those on the front lines of care and sustainability at every opportunity. Let us know if we can help. 

 Life in Vista Grove continues and we feel fortunate to be a part of this community. 

Your Vista Grove Volunteer Team

 http://www.vistagrove.org/

 

1 reaction Share

What's with annexations?

You may have read or heard about instances when a neighborhood or a commercial area in unincorporated DeKalb wants to be “annexed” by a neighboring city. Northlake Mall has annexed into the City of Tucker. The Lavista Park neighborhood (right outside the Vista Grove map) has been approved to annex into the City of Brookhaven. And just today, the Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that Related Group, the owners of the property between Target and Chik-Fil-A on North Druid Hills Road and Briarcliff have also applied to be annexed into Brookhaven. “Hundreds of apartments, new hotel, planned for Brookhaven, next to CHOA, Emory campus,” https://www.bizjournals.com/atlanta/news/2019/12/17/hundreds-of-apartments-new-hotel-planned-for.html

But what does that mean? Annexation, simply put, is when an area on the border of an existing city becomes a part of that city.

It does not mean the annexed area leaves DeKalb County; instead, it remains part of the county and still receives many services from DeKalb. Annexation does, however, mean that the area is subject to the new city's jurisdiction and that it receives from that city those services that the city is providing. Correspondingly, property owners in the annexed area pay to that city, instead of to DeKalb, that portion of local taxes representing what that city charges for those services.

There is a misconception that recent annexations happened because neighboring cities are “grabbing" property, or that they are somehow aggressively seeking to absorb property. In reality, annexations are occurring, via different methods, because the businesses or the neighborhoods, who are near those cities, prefer to be inside the jurisdiction of the city. Like the owner of the Target property on Briarcliff Road, they are themselves applying, or in some cases voting, to be annexed.

As far as how annexation happens, one common method of annexation is known as the 100% method. Generally speaking, when 100% of the owners of an area of property that is contiguous (next to a city) wants to be annexed, they can apply. The city council then considers, and can approve the annexation. This is the method that business property owners use, because they typically are moving a parcel or several parcels together, all of which they own, into a city. Northlake Mall annexed into Tucker using the 100% method, and the Briarcliff/North Druid Hills commercial property owners are also using this method.

The next very common method of annexation, which is more often used by neighborhoods who wish to annex, is the 60% method. In this case, both 60% of the registered voters in the area and 60% of the property owners, submit a petition and application to the city for annexation. Then, looking to the best interests of city residents and residents in the area to be annexed, the city council considers and can approve the application. This is the method that LaVista Park has used in applying to be annexed into Brookhaven. https://www.reporternewspapers.net/2019/11/30/lavista-park-community-seeks-annexation-into-brookhaven/

Yet another method of annexation is by a resolution and referendum process: using this method, cities propose an annexation and then residents in the area can vote in a referendum on whether to be annexed.  There is also annexation that the General Assembly can propose by local act, which in the case of a larger county like DeKalb, would require a referendum in the areas to be annexed. All of these methods, which are provided by state statute, involve and require property owner or voter input.  Lastly, there is the special case of an annexation by a city to remove an unincorporated island. 

And apart from this special case of an unincorporated island, cities are not able to unilaterally annex either commercial or residential areas. When Northlake Mall annexed, its ownership wished, as do many businesses that annex, to take advantage of a more streamlined and quicker permitting process. The LaVista Park neighborhood, which has been approved to be annexed into Brookhaven, is right next to Brookhaven and wished to have more input in the decision making process of so much nearby development. 

Certainly, cities themselves will, through their economic development departments, advertise their benefits. And there are instances in which cities would like to expand, and even, in some cases, more aggressively make their plans public. For example, the city of Doraville recently made clear that they would like to add to its tax base by annexing large portions of neighborhoods and business areas in the Embry Hills area.   http://doravillecityga.iqm2.com/Citizens/FileOpen.aspx?Type=1&ID=1401&Inline=False&Frame=SplitView&Height=1520

http://doravillecityga.iqm2.com/Citizens/SplitView.aspx?Mode=Video&MeetingID=1424&AgendaID=1401&FileFormat=pdf&Format=Agenda&MediaFileFormat=mpeg4

One can fairly conclude that cities like Brookhaven and Chamblee, who would like to grow, have also considered scenarios in which they expand their own borders into new areas, including the Vista Grove footprint. 

Any massive proposed annexation, of course, as discussed above, could not occur without a majority vote of residents. It is understandable that many residents and businesses on the borders of Vista Grove, if they had other alternative, might be receptive to such plans. As long as cities are continuing to improve their infrastructure at a rapid rate, and offer an attractive value proposition for their services, there will be ongoing annexation. For example, residents in the new city of Tucker now pay a lower overall millage rate than residents in unincorporated DeKalb. https://decaturish.com/2019/06/tuckers-takeover-of-parks-will-result-in-lower-tax-bill-for-residents/

Indeed, the Georgia Municipal Association lists a host of reasons that property owners and citizens decide to annex, including “higher levels of government services,” “infrastructure improvements like sidewalks and parks,” “a strong sense of community and professional planning,” and “a smaller and more responsive local government.”  See Growing Cities, Growing Georgia (2014), https://www.gacities.com/GMASite/media/PDF/publications/annexation.pdf.

With those incentives in mind, and looking to recent history, we can conclude that portions of our community that are unincorporated now will continue to be absorbed into neighboring cities by annexation. It does no good to pretend that annexation is not happening; instead, we have to recognize and address the situation realistically.

How, then, might we restore stability, avoiding continued piecemeal annexation, including the steady attrition of neighborhoods and businesses on the borders into other cities? For those of us in Vista Grove, one solution is to make staying here a far more attractive value proposition than leaving to annex. A new city of Vista Grove can provide the representative voice, infrastructure improvements, and targeted services (roads and sidewalks, parks, and zoning) to do that. And now is the time, when we still have a strong tax base and vibrant commercial areas as a foundation for a new city, to get started on that work. 

Interestingly, Brookhaven is considering a plan that might well discourage neighborhoods from annexing into its borders: It is looking into creating special tax districts for newly annexed areas, so that residents annexing in do not receive the benefit of the city’s lower millage rate, at least initially. https://www.reporternewspapers.net/2019/11/02/special-tax-districts-to-be-created-for-brookhaven-annexations

From a Vista Grove perspective, it also seems that annexation by bordering cities would disturb the cohesive community we now enjoy. Should Brookhaven, Chamblee, Doraville, Tucker and Clarkston expand their borders, over time, it would forever change the identity of our community and impact the strong, united voice we have now and are working hard to solidify. As a desirable tax base, it is not realistic to believe our area will remain unincorporated in the future. The decision, then, is whether we take action now to unite into one city, or whether we are content to be carried along by the forces that drive annexation, losing in the process some of our community voice and cohesiveness.

Add your reaction Share

How do we prevent overdevelopment of our city?

Carefully planned development and construction within a city are critical for the prosperity of residents. Development can create a sense of community, provide infrastructure investment, attract business and generate jobs, bring desired curb appeal, and maintain or increase home values. Whether the development is residential or commercial, construction brings economic stability. 

Development can also increase traffic, alter ecosystems and habitats, and change the character of a community. The key is to find a balance between growth and maintaining the desired character of the community, as well as weighing the pros and cons of the development plan.  

This balance must be intentional and thoughtfully planned by community leaders as part of a process that draws upon residents' intimate knowledge of their own community. Absent this planning, organic development that occurs may be undesired and harmful. Representatives who live in the areas they serve will understand the goals of the local community and its residents, and through citizen input and participation in the zoning process are able to implement a long term plan to manage development activity in order to strike that important balance.  

The key to managing development, and therefore overdevelopment, is to have local leadership that is immersed in the community and understands the balance between growth and maintaining character. That local leadership then ensures that community voices are heard and are a direct and immediate part of the planning and development process.  

This is exactly why cities have proven more successful at community building and improving quality of life.  City of Vista Grove residents and elected leaders will all live in the community and are best equipped to balance development with maintaining the character of the community.  

2 reactions Share

Brookhaven proposes to keep taxes higher for newly annexed areas

Over the past few years in our pursuit to create a city within our footprint, I have had neighbors who believe it would be better to be annexed into a city like Brookhaven. One of the reasons for considering annexation was that the millage rate is lower in a city like Brookhaven. However, in the article below it appears that any new annexations into Brookhaven will be at a higher tax millage rate similar to DeKalb County. 
We believe a city of Vista Grove will keep our neighborhoods together and we can run key services more efficiently and locally at a lower tax rate than DeKalb County. 
1 reaction Share

Community Informational Meeting 10/23

The Vista Grove meeting was an overwhelming success on Wednesday evening October 23rd at the Greek Orthodox Cathedral on Clairmont Road. Over 60 neighbors attended this very informative meeting. The evening began with a wonderful presentation given by Greg Ramsey, the developer of Pendergrast Farms, which will be located on Briarcliff Road near the intersection of Chrysler Drive. The Pendergrast Farms is a type of development that the city of Vista Grove would support. It is a well thought out development that maintains a large buffer around its property,  communal living & limited removal of trees on one of the largest remaining undeveloped properties in our footprint. 

The second half of the evening was dedicated to  answering questions from the audience about the city initiative of Vista Grove. Detailed answers were given about the feasibility of having a city, taxes, the many benefits of cityhood and how we can make this become a reality. Many in the audience left this evening being excited about how a city if Vista Grove can improve our area.
1 reaction Share

Introduction of our bill, HB 671

As this legislative session comes to a close, we are excited about where Vista Grove is headed. One of our DeKalb legislators, Rep. Vernon Jones, has just signed on to sponsor our bill (HB 671). This sponsorship permits the legislative process for Vista Grove to move forward as we continue to seek additional local sponsors. While we hoped legislation could be passed this session, with a vote in 2019, this bill will be considered next session, moving a cityhood referendum to 2020.

Between now and next January, we all need to work to get the word out about Vista Grove to even more neighbors, and to continue to foster positive and factual discussion about improving this great community. When the new session comes around, we will be ready. Our DeKalb legislators say they want to hear from more constituents about their enthusiasm and readiness to vote on a City of Vista Grove. Please continue to contact your representatives and keep the discussions alive in your neighborhoods.

As importantly, there is work to be done on improvement projects right now, right here in Vista Grove. Where do you most want to see us join together as a Vista Grove community? Building out our own Vista Grove Greenway? Creating new recreation spaces and opportunities for our families and children? Pushing for road repairs and sidewalk additions? Look for an important update soon about how you can stay involved.

Thank you for all you do! Your efforts to date have galvanized this movement and helped educate our legislators about the strong desire for change in our community — and with your help, we WILL carry that work forward!

Please keep up your Vista Grove signs! Our signs help raise awareness of this movement for positive change and to give us voice. They also show our legislators how widespread support is in the community.

What can you do to help make a City of Vista Grove a reality?

• Contact your legislators and let them know you support a vote on Vista Grove (and ask your friends and neighbors to do the same)
• Donate to help fund our outreach efforts
• Display our yard sign – let us know if you need one
• Wear a Vista Grove shirt to events legislators attend (email us at info@vistagrove.org if you'd like a shirt or pick one up at a Vista Grove event)

Add your reaction Share

A Voice and a Vote

The movement for a voice for the Vista Grove community and the legislative process to allow us a vote on cityhood is continuing! The fact that “Crossover Day” has passed without our cityhood bill clearing the General Assembly this year just means that we need to focus on ensuring our right to vote in 2020.

For this year, we are pleased that our bill has been introduced and is now available for review and discussion to continue this initiative forward into the 2020 legislative session. Any state legislator can sponsor a bill; and since enabling a vote for Vista Grove is both of countywide and regional interest and benefit, Representative Timothy Barr introduced our cityhood bill in order to continue moving the conversation forward. This displayed admirable vision and political courage and if you have not thanked him, please write to do so.

Our community deserves for one of our own local representatives to stand up for us and sponsor our bill allowing us to vote. As Representative Barr has communicated, his intention is and has always been to preserve a right to vote while we seek bipartisan sponsors. It is thus more important than ever to write your legislators and let them know that you support Vista Grove – they need to hear from you!

What is our challenge for local representation?

The Vista Grove area has a total of seven legislative representatives, none of whom have a majority of constituents within the Vista Grove map. As many of you have read, each legislator is subject to extraordinary pressures from interests within the bulk of their districts, which are outside of Vista Grove. Further, their districts each include between one and four neighboring cities with long term goals that conflict with our community’s cityhood initiative. This divided interest and fragmented representation for our community raises the bar even higher for us when it comes to being heard! Whether fair or not, it is our reality.

So please take a moment and write now. Our representatives are listening and the only way to make our community’s voice heard is for you to write them.

As we move forward with the cityhood initiative, you have our continued commitment to lead a positive dialogue. We have not, and will not, engage in the politics of negativism. The Vista Grove movement has delivered good facts, in a positive way, about options for our civic future including cityhood. The movement stands for improving our community for our community and for fostering neighborhood cohesion. We firmly believe it is not only right, but more successful to build our community by respecting all opinions and treating everyone with dignity and respect, both online and in person.

Please know that this effort continues to be driven by you and your neighbors, who have made it possible to fund the required feasibility study and a lobbying team through a good old-fashioned grassroots effort. The positive feedback and support from the community has been overwhelming, we have met the statutory requirements, and we are determined to get the right to vote, whether it be this year or in 2020.  

Regardless of the outcome during the current session, we are committed to doing the hard work so that our legislators will support us as we move forward with Vista Grove!

Sincerely,
Andrew, Meg, Lara, Angela, John, and Megan

Add your reaction Share

Legislative Update

Thanks to all who came out to our January information meeting on Jan. 30 - we had a great turnout (100+ people), and a very energizing discussion!

At the meeting, we announced our new legislative team for this crucial legislative session. Brad Carver, who is experienced in working with cities to help introduce their charter legislation, will assist us again this year. We’re grateful to have his expertise on board.

In addition, we’re excited to announce that Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary is joining the Vista Grove team. As someone who knows from experience the benefits a city can bring to the overall strength of both local communities and DeKalb as a whole, Jason Lary is an excellent addition to our legislative efforts, and we’re grateful for his support. He was elected Stonecrest’s first mayor in 2017 and worked diligently for years to establish a city to represent his DeKalb community.

Having both Brad and Mayor Lary assisting underscores Vista Grove’s non-partisan message. Vista Grove is a non-partisan effort, just as the issues a city of Vista Grove would address, like improving infrastructure, building community, and fostering smart economic development, are non-partisan issues. Both Jason Lary and Brad Carver are experienced in identifying common grounds and working on practical solutions with both Republican and Democratic legislators. We hope to get as much bipartisan legislative support for a Vista Grove bill as possible, and we believe working with both sides of the aisle is the best way to accomplish that goal.

As always, your support, as an engaged and informed member of the community is so important, and our legislators have shared that they want to continue to hear from you that you support the opportunity to vote on the creation of our own city.

 

1 reaction Share