Building the Infrastructure that Grows Community, and Community Spirit

In addition to delivering services like road repair, and to helping plan for long-term preservation of greenspace, we know cities are excellent at building community. 

But that sense of community and belonging -- the experience of being in a place that feels like home -- does not just happen on its own.

It takes all of us, working together, and to sustain community requires a certain infrastructure that encourages togetherness.

Imagine beginning your day in a community that you have designed, together with your neighbors, to create real fulfillment.

 

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How City Services (the "3 P's") Align with Community Priorities

We know the area wants to improve our transit and bike lane and sidewalk network; regularly repair and maintain our paved roads; preserve and expand our parks and recreational offerings; and have more say on how growth and development in the community happens.  

Reflecting those priorities are the services that a City of Vista Grove would offer. As you can read in the proposed city charter,  a new city of Vista Grove would offer three services --  roads and drainage, parks and recreation, and planning and zoning.  You might refer to them as the “three P’s”: paving, parks, and planning, three intensely local services that benefit from local knowledge and local engagement, and that are most directly used by the impacted community members. 

DeKalb County would continue to handle all other services, including public safety. This kind of city-county partnership just makes common sense. Serving over 700,000 residents in DeKalb, county government in DeKalb necessarily has to be very selective about priorities. Only so much can be accomplished solely at that level, which is where cities have stepped in. 

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How A City of Vista Grove Can Preserve and Enhance Our Parks and Greenspace

We know we want more park and recreation areas for our families near where we live, and that the Vista Grove area already has fewer parks than it should. Yet we continue to lose wooded and green space in our area to development, with no realistic ability to instead acquire and dedicate it as park land.

Several years ago, for example, we lost the last undeveloped wooded area in Toco Hills, 1.4 acres that now house more leased commercial space. 

On North Druid Hills Road, when the old Grand Slam driving range land became available, the area lost another prime opportunity to acquire parkland. In an already densely populated area, the land was sold to a developer who built another series of townhomes.

On Briarcliff Road and on Clairmont Road, the clear-cutting of acres of wooded parcels for townhome and other higher-density housing continues apace.

Are these the best locations for new multi-use housing? Would preservation of green space, trails and recreation space have better-served us as a community? 

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Vista Grove and The Benefits of City-County Government

The transition to a city-county form of government begins in the Georgia legislature, by bill that includes a city charter and authorizes a vote by residents in the area.  

The good news is that this process has begun. Last year, two of our state senators, Senators Elena Parent and Sally Harrell, with support from Representative Mary Margaret Oliver, introduced legislation that would permit such a vote. You can read their discussion of the bill, including how a city can provided a missing and needed voice for the area, here. The coronavirus shortened the 2020 legislative session and it did not move forward. 

We anticipate it will be reintroduced this coming year, and we hope and expect that the area will have an opportunity for such a vote as early as November of this year.

Following a successful vote by residents, there is a smooth two-year transition process of preparing city operations. At the beginning of this period, city council elections are held. The city’s new leadership then works hand-in-hand with counterparts in the county to prepare and plan a smooth transition to city-county government, and to the city’s delivery of its chosen services. 

This cooperation helps move those local services closer to the people they serve. This point is an important one: City formation moves those local services closer to the people they serve.

There is no duplication of effort. By law, the cities and county work together to develop a service delivery strategy that ensures no overlap in coverage and maximum efficiency. 

Just as city staff focus on different issues from county staff, elected city council members have a different focus and work than county commissioners. They are not an extra layer. In the same way, we elect legislators to the Georgia General Assembly, and representatives to the U.S. Congress. They do not overlap, but, like city leaders and county leaders, work in complementary fashion.

If anything, moving local services closer means a smaller, more efficient government with less bureaucracy.

Also, it is important to note, recent cities have not only not raised their tax millage rates, they have more often (including in Tucker) been able to lower the overall millage rate residents pay.

In brief, the city-county model works. We now have decades of experience in Dekalb with city-county government. We know the concrete benefits that can be realized because neighboring cities are delivering them. 

That has been so in the past ten to twelve years especially, with the success of newly formed cities in building out sidewalks and trails, and of long-standing cities -- take Chamblee as an example -- that are seeing the fruition of long-term plans, and entering a new era of growth and vitality. In the same service areas a new city of Vista Grove would offer, in communities like ours, the city-county form of government has been tested and has passed with flying colors.

As cities handle the intensely-local services, it frees up time, attention, and personnel in the county to focus on county-wide services like sanitation, making them the best and most efficient they can be.

How can we realize the benefits of city-county partnership here? Through a vote, through the thoughtful creation of our own city, we help improve this area while we strengthen the county and the region. 

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 just as residents in cities around us have, I would like to see this area realize the benefits of city-county partnership. Please permit us 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.

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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.

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