Cities, neighborhoods map DeKalb’s future

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 13, 2014
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

This story has been updated. 

Organizations working toward the creation of new cities in DeKalb County are finalizing their maps before a Nov. 15 deadline set by the state Legislature.

Mary Kay Woodworth, with LakesideYES, told Decaturish on Thursday that Lakeside and Briarcliff supporters are hopeful the Tucker supporters will join them.

“We are finishing the process of drawing a final map and picking a name for the joint effort,” Woodworth said. “Lakeside/Briarcliff plans to announce the final map soon, but are holding off until the legislature’s Nov. 15th negotiations deadline. We have made multiple offers to the Tucker cityhood movement and we’re still hopeful they’ll join our two groups in compromising. Until then, we think it would disrupt the process to release any new maps.”

DeKalb’s current cities are making maps of their own, firming up their annexation plans so they’ll be ready by the time legislators reconvene in January.

Neighborhoods like the Medlock and the Decatur Terrace are caught between competing interests.

Medlock wants to go into a city and take the Suburban Plaza shopping center with it. Decatur wants the shopping center but doesn’t want the 1,300 homes in the Medlock neighborhood because its school system already faces an enrollment crisis. The system’s current enrollment is 4,336 students. A consultant’s report on enrollment estimates that the city’s school system will grow to 7,398 students by 2020 without annexation in a high-growth scenario. If the city doesn’t annex more property, the school has limited options for growing within the city’s current borders.

Decatur Terrace, with its 147 properties, is in Avondale Estates’ annexation plans, but would prefer to be in Decatur’s. Decatur doesn’t want them either. Property owners in the Rio Circle area, a bounty of commercial tax revenue, have petitioned to join Decatur. But Decatur has taken the position that these areas in Avondale’s annexation plan and they are respecting that.

Competition

Avondale and Decatur may abide by their gentleman’s agreement, but their competitors will not. Druid Hills wants to annex into Atlanta, along with Emory University. The Druid Hills annexation map follows the boundary lines of the school attendance zones for Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary Schools. That map extends all the way to Decatur’s western border and includes territory Decatur wants to annex.

During a special called work session on Wednesday between Decatur School Board members and the Decatur City Commission, Mayor Jim Baskett sounded surprised when School Board member Julie Rhame pointed this out.

The annexation map was actually proposed by an organization called Together in Atlanta. Together in Atlanta includes many of the same people who were a part of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster movement.

The Druid Hills group failed in its efforts to convert seven schools – Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, Laurel Ridge Elementary, McLendon Elementary, Druid Hills Middle School and Druid Hills High School – into a charter cluster.

The DeKalb County School Board wouldn’t consider the group’s petition, and it was withdrawn.

Together in Atlanta proposes annexing three of those schools – Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary and Druid Hills High – into Atlanta.

Seeking Atlanta

That would mean that students in Avondale Estates would have to attend a different high school, with the caveat that Atlanta would have to take ownership of Druid Hills High.

Matt Lewis, of Together in Atlanta, believes case law supports the concept of Atlanta assuming ownership of the schools if the city annexes them. Decatur officials have been skeptical about that idea when asked why they don’t consider annexing areas, like Druid Hills, that already have school buildings.

Together in Atlanta has some natural advantages over other areas jockeying for position in the annexation race. Much of their organizational structure is already in place because of the charter cluster effort. They also have a simple premise behind their annexation proposal.

“What we’re trying to do is keep these elementary school zones together,” Lewis said. “That’s what’s motivating us.”

Together in Atlanta would be leaving its other charter school petitioners in Avondale behind. There’s no official word on what would happen to Avondale’s school feeder pattern if Druid Hills High went to another system. There’s been plenty of speculation, including rezoning those students to Towers High or Columbia High schools.

Avondale Estates Mayor Terry Giager said he doesn’t know for sure. He met with state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, on Friday. Giager said she’s not sure what will happen to Avondale students if Atlanta annexes Druid Hills.

Tight spots

Do Lewis and the other Together in Atlanta members have any regrets about the possibility of leaving the Avondale schools behind?

“It’s impossible not to have some heartache over it,” Lewis said. ” … I do think it is entirely appropriate for communities to try to preserve their elementary school attendance zones. I don’t begrudge anybody the opportunity to try to maintain those elementary communities. Those are so fundamental to the public schools.”

There’s heartache enough to go around. Consider the predicament of state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. Her district includes the city of Decatur, and she previously represented Medlock.

Medlock recently released the results of its annexation survey. Medlock received 438 completed surveys. According to the survey results, 61.9 percent of respondents would vote to join Decatur, if they had the option. But 63.5 percent would also vote to join Briarcliff or Lakeside if that was an option. The survey found 58 percent would vote to join Atlanta and 61.7 percent would support a one-year moratorium on all new cities in DeKalb County.

Another question asked, “All things being equal, what is your preferred outcome for the Medlock Park neighborhood?” According to the survey, 41.5 percent of respondents say Decatur is their “most favorite” option. The Medlock Area Neighborhood Association said the results are mixed and don’t give the board a “clear mandate.”

“Furthermore,” a statement from MANA says, “City of Decatur has made it clear that it wants to annex commercial property in and near our neighborhood but not the neighborhood as a whole. Decatur’s commercial annexation proposal is unreasonable and we will continue to fight it, as we believe North Decatur Road commercial properties should continue to primarily serve the established neighborhoods that they have been part of for so many years.”

As Decatur’s representative in the General Assembly, Oliver will be asked to introduce an annexation bill on the city’s behalf. That bill could tick off many of her former constituents in Medlock if it gives the city of Decatur the North Decatur Road commercial areas.

“All these disparate views represent conflicts that are difficult,” Oliver said. “My constituents are all over the map, all over the board, all over the place on how they want to move forward. Delegation members are going to be in many tight spots.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the state representative whose district includes Medlock Park. The representative for Medlock is state Rep. Rahn Mayo, D-Decatur. 

About Dan Whisenhunt

Dan Whisenhunt is editor and publisher of Decaturish.com. https://www.linkedin.com/in/danwhisenhunt

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