Our community within unincorporated Dekalb County is surrounded by several cities, and over time, we have seen more instances in which developers or property owners, often in commercial districts, apply for property to be “annexed,” or officially included, into a neighboring city and out of DeKalb unincorporated area.
Annexation into a city has many benefits; however, when piecemeal annexation occurs, it can impact our ability as a community to plan cohesively and in a way that benefits our entire area. Piecemeal annexation results in inconsistent boundaries for services, zoning, and community – neighbors that do not have the same representation or even the same community identity. It is for this reason, that incorporating the Vista Grove community as a whole is far preferable.
By managing their own planning and zoning, consistent with a comprehensive plan unique to the community, cities work to implement the kinds of land uses and enhancements that are consistent with the beautiful, economically vibrant, walkable, and bikeable community that we desire. But when commercial properties on our borders are annexed into other cities, the result is that we have no say in zoning decisions, even those that impact adjacent neighborhoods and property owners.
As a recent example, the Houston TX owner of Camden Apartments (12.89 acres situated at on Briarcliff Road-- near I-85) has applied to be annexed into Brookhaven. At the same time, an application has been submitted for the strip of three commercial properties on 3.845 acres (the “Clairmont-Briarcliff Property) to be annexed into Brookhaven. The Clairmont-Briarcliff Property fronts on Clairmont Road and extends from Briarcliff to the I-85 exit. You can review the Camden application here, and the Clairmont-Briarcliff Property application here. The annexation request does not include a few other commercial parcels and the small Riviera Terrace condominium community and would surround those on three sides by the city of Brookhaven.
The Clairmont-Briarcliff Property remains under contract by a Conyers-based developer, The Gipson Company. The developer proposed a rezoning in DeKalb County for the Clairmont-Briarcliff Property, to allow a proposed Wendy’s, an Express Oil, and a RaceTrac gas station. A number of our interested community members attended the rezoning meetings and expressed concerns about whether this use was best for that site and our community, about traffic concerns related to ingress/egress design, and about whether the impact of adding all of these businesses in this area had been well-considered. After this recommendation, the developer withdrew the proposal.
Yet, the current Clairmont-Briarcliff Property application requests, after annexation into Brookhaven, exactly the same zoning variance that the DeKalb Planning Commission recommended be denied: “rezoning with SLUPs [special land use permits] for drive-thru & auto rep[air] & gas station & alcohol outlet…” The Brookhaven Planning Commission is scheduled to consider the application at a public hearing on Sept. 5, with Brookhaven City Council consideration on Sept. 25. Here is a summary of questions at the recent July 23 public participation meeting. Note #2 “Q:Why did you withdraw in DeKalb? A:Politically it appeared that we could not get it approved and it made send(sic) to come into Brookhaven.”
If this situation concerns you, then consider communicating with the Brookhaven Planning Commission as a community member, and as necessary with the Brookhaven City Council. They need to hear your input. This commercial area centered around Briarcliff and Clairmont roads should be one of the very vibrant destination areas for our community and the subject of revitalization efforts, including in a potential new city of Vista Grove. It is located at a key commercial intersection, and includes dilapidated properties that the community would like to see revitalized as part of uniform and comprehensive planning. This is one of the primary gateways into our community.
More broadly, if you are concerned about the process of piecemeal annexation, supporting the timely Vista Grove incorporation of our area will help unify our community and to avoid the challenges presented by piecemeal annexation. We want and need our local business to stay in our community, and to continue the virtuous cycle of civic enhancement and improvement, rather than leaving to look for additional services or perceived “greener pastures” in our adjacent cities. We need to do more to uniformly encourage positive development along our commercial corridors, including Briarcliff and Clairmont. As a city, in addition to managing its own parks, road repairs, police services and planning and zoning, Vista Grove will have an economic development office that helps to proactively seek out the kinds of sustainable and community-centered developments that make for a great place to live.
On the other hand, without our own city helping to keep local business local, the forces that have encouraged and incentivized past annexation mean that, over time, additional piecemeal portions of our geography are likely to annex into those other cities. That occurs even as, often, the neighborhoods are left behind — with less revenue to support benefits in their area, and less local control and direct input over decisions that impact traffic, aesthetics, environment, and overall quality of life.
How can you help make Vista Grove a reality?
- Donate to help us fund our education and outreach efforts.
- Encourage your neighbors to sign our petition to let legislators know we want the option to consider cityhood.
- Help represent Vista Grove by attending other key community meetings (please wear your Vista Grove shirt!).
- Volunteer with Vista Grove Initiative.
Andrew, Meg, Lara, John, and Megan