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Court ruling clarifies annexation debate

Annexation, new cities Avondale Estates Decatur Metro ATL

Court ruling clarifies annexation debate

Photo obtained via https://www.facebook.com/BrookhavenGAGov

Photo obtained via https://www.facebook.com/BrookhavenGAGov

In 2013, Chamblee and Brookhaven both annexed the same area, the 100 acres of Century Center property located off I-85 at Clairmont Road.

The question of which city’s annexation would be legally enforceable has percolated in the background as Decatur, Avondale Estates and Atlanta consider adding territory to their boundaries.

Brookhaven annexed the property in October 2013 after its owners petitioned the city, according to the Brookhaven Post. However, the commercial district and about 11,000 other people were on the ballot for an annexation referendum, which voters approved in November 2013, according to the Brookhaven Reporter.

That sparked a lawsuit. Century Center’s owners, Highwoods Properties, appealed a judge’s decision that the referendum should move forward, putting the voter-approved annexation on hold until an appeals court issued a ruling, according to Reporter Newspapers. The Appeals Court ruled on Oct. 23, siding with Chamblee, according to Neighbor Newspapers.

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The litigation has bearing on the current annexation discussions in Decatur and Avondale Estates, as well as the surrounding unincorporated areas. The Appeals Court potentially could’ve ruled that Brookhaven’s annexation by petition trumped Chamblee’s annexation by referendum. Chamblee’s annexation referendum was established by an action of the General Assembly. An annexation by petition requires no action on the part of the Assembly.

Mike Easterwood, owner of Decatur Self Storage, told Decaturish that legislators were paying attention to the lawsuit. Easterwood and other property owners around Rio Circle are petitioning to join the city of Decatur. The petition includes properties on Ponce de Leon, DeKalb Industrial Way, Laredo, and Pine Street. The Rio Circle properties were in an Avondale Estates annexation bill filed by state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates. That bill, which would’ve allowed for a referendum on the annexation question, was later pulled before the end of the 2014 session.

A ruling in favor of Brookhaven could’ve potentially undermined the Legislature’s authority on annexation, Easterwood said.

State Rep. Mike Jacobs, R-Brookhaven, said prior to the ruling that the issue at the heart of the lawsuit was one of timing. He said at the time the Legislature approved the Century Center referendum, members didn’t realize there might be a competing annexation proposal.

“The Century Center annexation came into the picture just as a bill was on its way to the governor’s desk,” Jacobs said. “… Right around that time the Century Center petition was filed with Brookhaven. The governor signed the Chamblee annexation bill which still required a referendum and, at the same time, Brookhaven voted to accept the Century Center annexation.”

Jacobs said legislators wanted to know, “Does the timing of the (annexation) legislation matter?”

“How things occur could in the General Assembly could very much be affected by the ruling in the Century Center lawsuit depending on how broadly or narrowly the court of appeals rules and on what issues they rule,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs said on Oct. 29 that the ruling upholds the authority of the Legislature.

“The court of appeals basically said what the Legislature does trumps a municipality’s use of the statutory annexation methods, so assuming that the court of appeals decision stands, the General Assembly ultimately would have the ability to control the end game of any annexations,” Jacobs said.