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Howdy neighbor – Parkwood’s path to Decatur

Annexation and new cities Decatur

Howdy neighbor – Parkwood’s path to Decatur

An image from the Parkwood service delivery report. Source: City of Decatur
An image from the Parkwood service delivery report. Source: City of Decatur

An image from the Parkwood service delivery report. Source: City of Decatur

The Parkwood neighborhood joined the city of Decatur on Monday. Soon residents there will be paying city taxes and sending their kids to city schools.

Bringing the neighborhood into the city limits required working through some weighty issues involving historic preservation and the educations students who already attend school in DeKalb County.

Some residents questioned commissioners about why they would annex a residential area that would add students to the city’s rapidly swelling classrooms. The annexation won’t increase the city’s commercial tax base and is expected to add 14 students to the school system in the first year.

Mayor Jim Baskett said the answer is pretty simple: Parkwood asked to become part of Decatur.

“We didn’t reach out to Parkwood,” Baskett said. “They reached out to us and they made a very strong case for their desire to be annexed.”

Residents in Parkwood said they began talking about joining Decatur when they realized that Parkwood might become part of one of DeKalb’s newest cities. Incorporation efforts spurred the city of Decatur to begin its own investigation of how to annex commercial areas before other cities absorb them. Cityhood efforts didn’t make it out of the General Assembly this year, but people looking to create cities of Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker already are talking about next year.

The Parkwood annexation process itself was relatively brief. The residents in favor of it filed their annexation petition on Jan. 23 using what’s known as the “60 percent method.” The annexation law requires petitioners to get the signatures representing 60 percent of land owners and registered voters. According to one letter opposed to the annexation, 54 owners signed the petition and 22 did not sign. The annexation will bring 77 parcels containing 75 homes into the city, effective July 1. Of those parcels, about 16 already are partially in the city limits.

The Parkwood neighborhood includes a 3 acre green space, Parkwood Park, and a historic past. The neighborhood plat was first laid out in the 1920s, according to the annexation petition. The homes were developed between 1948 and 1960. Some of the neighborhood is part of Historic Druid Hills. During the April 21 meeting, commissioners said that historic designation won’t carry over when Parkwood becomes part of Decatur on July 1.

That raises a question about whether there will be a period where builders and developers can purchase older homes in Parkwood, knock them down and rebuild them as bigger homes. The tear-down debate continues to roil the community and its part of what the city is trying to address in its current zoning code rewrite, known as unified development ordinance.

During the April 21 meeting, commissioners discussed enacting a moratorium on tear-downs specifically for Parkwood to give the residents time to reestablish their historic status.

Andy Vocaire, who has acted as spokesman for the Parkwood residents, said the group is supportive of the idea.

“If we were annexed into Decatur, the intention would be to set up a moratorium on full demolitions of dwellings that would give the neighborhood a chance to create a new historic district,” he told commissioners before their vote. “If it was approved, we would reach out to Druid Hills to see if we could stay associated with Druid Hills (Historic District).”

Amanda Thompson, the city’s planning director, told commissioners that planning staff would be asking the city to take official action to prevent tear-downs while Parkwood works toward becoming a historic district.

The other point of contention involved school enrollment. Parents of seniors at Druid Hills High asked commissioners to delay the annexation to give their students time to graduate. The city’s attorney researched the issue and found that the city has wiggle room to delay enrollment for students who still want to attend Druid Hills until they graduate.

The City Commission modified the annexation ordinance so the effective date of the annexation is July 1, but parents with rising seniors who write to the city manager by June 1, 2014 can have their school enrollment date deferred until July 1, 2015.

Baskett said the attorney found the city had “some flexibility on the enrollment dates of the school because of special wording that relates to independent school systems.”

Vocaire said residents of Parkwood are thrilled to be able to call Decatur home.

“We are extremely delighted by the City Commissioners’ decision …,” he said.  “Throughout the annexation process, the City of Decatur has been exceptionally responsive, and has shown their desire to allow residents who are proactive the chance to make positive changes within their communities.  The Parkwood neighborhood is excited by this outcome and ready to start contributing to such a thriving city.”