Passive, aggressive – Atlanta’s annexation approach

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 20, 2014
Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan and Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Member Matt Westmoreland speak during a meeting on annexation hosted by the Laurel Ridge Shamrock Civic Association. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan and Atlanta Public Schools Board of Education Member Matt Westmoreland speak during a meeting on annexation hosted by the Laurel Ridge Shamrock Civic Association. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

Look, Atlanta’s not waving some flag in favor of annexation, Atlanta City Councilman Alex Wan said.

But they’re not going to say “no,” either.

That’s the gist of Wan’s responses about annexation during a Nov. 19 community meeting in the Laurel Ridge Shamrock neighborhood. Wan and District 3 Atlanta Board of Education Member Matt Westmoreland spoke at University Heights Methodist Church.

“We welcome any communities that want to do it, but they’ve got to organize and make the statement,” Wan told Decaturish after the meeting.

Laurel Ridge Shamrock currently is in the map for a proposed city of LaVista Hills. If it stays in that map, kids in the neighborhood will stay in the DeKalb County Schools system. But their neighbors down the road in Druid Hills might be going into Atlanta and joining Atlanta Public Schools. The map proposed by Together in Atlanta encompasses the neighborhoods of Druid Hills and North Druid Hills. If Druid Hills does move into Atlanta, it will be taking Druid Hills High, Briar Vista Elementary and Fernbank Elementary.

They’d be leaving behind other schools in the Druid Hills cluster, like Druid Hills Middle and Laurel Ridge Elementary. Where would those kids go to high school if Druid Hills High joins APS? That’s the same question Avondale Estates residents are starting to ask, too. Avondale Estates is zoned to Druid Hills High, too. Also, does Laurel Ridge have to stay in the LaVista Hills map?

There’s currently a survey floating around the neighborhood that asks residents whether they prefer staying in the LaVista Hills map, remaining in unincorporated DeKalb, or annexing into Atlanta.

It’s a fine month for surveys. Medlock, one of the few neighborhoods that didn’t find itself in anybody’s map, recently completed one. Those results showed residents were partial to Decatur and joining a new city, but the sentiment wasn’t strong enough to form a clear mandate for the Neighborhood Association.

The Druid Hills Civic Association, not to be confused with the Together in Atlanta folks who are hewing to the attendance zones for the schools, recently released the initial results of its survey. It found that 47 percent of respondents “strongly disagreed” with joining a new city.

Druid Hills was more sharply divided on annexing into Atlanta. According to the results, 28 percent of respondents strongly agree with the idea, while 28 percent strongly disagree.

Of course, Druid Hills includes Emory University. It’s widely assumed that Emory wants to be in Atlanta, and because it’s almost right smack in the middle of Druid Hills, Druid Hills will be going along, too. Emory gets what Emory wants, the logic goes.

And what’s Emory’s take on this?

Emory’s not getting involved with the annexation debate. Not yet, at least.

When Decaturish asked, the university released a statement saying, “Currently the University is monitoring various jurisdictional proposals. We are hopeful that the evaluation process will be transparent and fair, so that we and our neighbors can weigh the best alternatives.”

The Laurel Ridge Shamrock Civic Association recently reached out to Charlie Harmon, Emory’s VP of Government and Community Affairs. He emailed a response similar to the one Emory sent us. Then Laurel Ridge called him on his cell phone.

The summary of that conversation, published on the Laurel Ridge website, offers more of a glimpse into the thinking among Emory officials.

The conversation was short and he reiterated these three points several times:

1. That Emory was sensitive to neighborhoods surrounding them and not pushing anyone in any direction.

2. That the cityhood movements should have maps that are transparent, along with a transparent process, so that all are able to see what is taking place.

3. Emory wants to keep all aspects of its campus together in one municipality and not in several municipalities.

Mr. Harman also said that the statement that was made at the Laurel Ridge Elementary Town Hall about Emory was inaccurate. He stated that Emory is not driving any talks for annexation, and that this was being pushed by Druid Hills. He was asked if Emory would go to Atlanta if Druid Hills decided that was the course that they wanted to take and (he said) that yes, but they would need to keep ALL aspects of their campus in one municipality.

Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed recently gave the Together in Atlanta annexation plan his endorsement. But saying he supports it is one thing. The mayor gave no impression that he’s going to campaign for the annexation.

But he’s not saying he’s against it either.

The nodding and winking by Atlanta officials makes the current annexation waltz between Avondale Estates and Decatur look even more conspicuous.

Commercial property owners near Rio Circle have done everything short of throwing themselves at the city of Decatur, petitioning to bring their tax revenue producing real estate into Decatur’s city limits. Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett continues publicly brushing off the petition, deferring to an unofficial agreement to honor Avondale’s annexation map. It’s a map that the Rio Circle property owners and some residents of other neighborhoods don’t want to be a part of.

The Together in Atlanta Map overlaps with property on Decatur’s western border that’s in Decatur’s annexation plan. Like Brookhaven, a city with leaders who don’t have any hangups about considering an annexation of Executive Park even though it’s in the LaVista Hills Map, Atlanta leaders aren’t turning brushing off Together in Atlanta. Some of Together in Atlanta’s map is in the LaVista Hills map, too.

Decaturish asked Wan if he was aware that Together in Atlanta’s plan overlaps with Decatur’s?

“This is all community driven,” Wan said. ” … If the community speaks and this is what they want, then I think that speaks volumes.”

About Dan Whisenhunt

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

View all posts by Dan Whisenhunt

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