On September 26th, the Board of Commissioners approved a legal settlement with the City of Atlanta that will resolve issues related to the annexation of properties in the Clifton Corridor into the City, which will now go forward. The settlement, necessitated by Georgia’s weak and archaic annexation law, helps protect surrounding residents from more intensive land use permitted under Atlanta’s zoning code, establishes policies for the City of Atlanta to be applied to prospective annexation applications for unincorporated properties now adjacent to the expanded City Limits, and provides for payments from the City and the annexing institutions for fire protection and infrastructure maintenance. While these commitments cannot be binding in perpetuity because of constitutional limitations, they nevertheless provide some stability for the future.
This June, the institutional property owners, led by Emory University and including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta petitioned the City of Atlanta for annexation across a 65 foot wide “land bridge” established by Emory’s recent purchase of a single family residence on Briarcliff Road. The area proposed for annexation is comprised exclusively of institutionally controlled properties, 100% of which joined in the petition for annexation. The proposed annexation may not be approached from Atlanta without traveling through unincorporated DeKalb, and it includes large islands of unincorporated property, including the Harwood Condominiums, The Ben Franklin Academy, and the Ronald McDonald House.
DeKalb County filed objections to the annexation, citing Atlanta’s more intensive zoning regulations, infrastructure impacts, and the lack of a strategy for providing public services to the area, which is isolated from Atlanta fire and police facilities, and is served by DeKalb County water, sewer, and storm water utilities. As a consequence of the objection, the Georgia Department of Community Affairs was required to establish an arbitration panel, and the Atlanta City Council was delayed from their original September 5th action date.
DeKalb County’s Objectives
Recognizing that Georgia law offers no means to block such a petition or action by the City to annex the area, DeKalb County moved to mitigate the impact of the annexation on surrounding unincorporated areas of the County. The Board of Commissioners formed a committee chaired by myself, and including Commissioners Kathie Gannon and Mereda Davis Johnson. The County’s law and planning department were tasked with the responsibility to analyze the impact of the annexation on the County, and to develop arguments supporting DeKalb’s request that the Arbitration Panel impose additional restrictions on Atlanta within the annexed area. We also developed an agenda for the treatment of expected future annexation proposals from properties adjacent to the new Clifton Corridor annexation, since the new city limits would provide many new opportunities for property owners to seek rezoning, relief from Historic District regulations, or to simply build larger buildings under Atlanta’s laws.
DeKalb was successful in obtaining additional zoning restrictions for the Clifton Corridor Annexation Area included in the current petition, these include height restrictions and prohibition of uses allowed under Atlanta’s zoning, such as stadiums. DeKalb County negotiated Atlanta’s adoption of a policy that will govern future annexation petitions, including the suppression of single parcel annexations, and a requirement that areas retain Historic District protection if annexed. DeKalb also negotiated the preservation of the County’s Storm Water Utility within the annexed area, and a ten-year intergovernmental contract for DeKalb to continue providing fire protection to the area, at a cost to Atlanta of around a million dollars per year. The details of the Settlement Agreement are attached.
While the Clifton Corridor Annexation into Atlanta will likely have future adverse impacts on unincorporated DeKalb, the concessions that we achieved in the Settlement Agreement were far better than could have been achieved through the Arbitration Panel. Only time will tell whether Atlanta will fulfill the annexing institutions expectations that were the basis of their petition, but DeKalb County will continue to work in the interest of all stakeholders in an area that is already one of the most attractive areas of the region.