Dear Decaturish – Over yonderMain Quad on Emory University's primary Druid Hills Campus. Photo obtained via Wikimedia Commons
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I noticed with some amusement that Decaturish had recently taken down the “Annexation” Tab at the top your home page. As if the incredibly complex and confusing cult of “the grass must surely be greener over yonder” ever truly goes away. News Flash: It’s baaaack
So, to no one’s great surprise Emory University is now officially seeking annexation into the City of Atlanta. The University was somewhat of fence sitter in 2015 during the mad rush of varied interests to grab as much of central DeKalb real estate as one could. While the Together in Atlanta group was unofficially backed by the University, the tensions within the Druid Hills community, particularly surrounding the schools and what would go to Atlanta and what wouldn’t, made any annexation vote a very iffy proposition.
The notion of the university being annexed is not a terrible one and in many ways it makes sense. The fact that it is not currently contiguous with the city really is not that significant an issue, given their deep pockets to buy the 50 foot wide “Bridge” they need in Sage Hill. Since this would appear to be a straight annexation of commercial tracts, there really is no one who has the standing to object. The fact that they do not pay property taxes removes DeKalb County’s most obvious objection. Binding commercial and residential tracts together and putting it to a vote becomes a huge, crapshoot for Atlanta, Decatur, Emory and Druid Hills. The approach of not putting it to vote makes sense. Done Deal. Right?
Not so fast.
Any Annexation plan that crosses Clifton Road, north of the campus, and has a southern edge along North Decatur Road that effectively isolates all of Druid Hills from the rest of DeKalb County. Unincorporated Druid Hills would be completely surrounded by municipalities, if Decatur annexes the commercial property at the intersection of Clairmont and North Decatur. Isolating Druid Hills in this way is a huge mistake and exposes several tripwire issues that will destroy what we know Druid Hills to be.
It is inevitable that there is going to be real clamor for the annexation or annexations of all of Druid Hills. The only real question is whether or not Druid Hills moves with one voice or two or six. The problem is that there is no map that can be drawn that will not generate the obvious questions: What of the High School? What of the rest of the Fernbank Elementary School district? To say nothing of the rest of High School Attendance Zone, What of the Emory Guard Fire Station? What happens to MARTA plan for Light Rail expansion from Emory to Avondale?
Emory’s lust for Atlanta and light rail is not the real issue. It is the lack of regard to how it will break apart Druid Hills and pit neighborhood against neighborhood and neighbor against neighbor. Conspiring when DeKalb County’s Interim CEO is a lame duck and disengaged is unconscionable. Voters in Druid Hills are being shut out of this process and have no real leverage and apparently no real leader to push back.
No one wants a two-year morass or a two-year slog towards an ill-conceived annexation of Druid Hills but that is precisely what is going to occur. This approach of simply affirming anything Emory wants to do and ignoring the many raw fault lines that course through Druid Hills is the height of political myopia and may be disqualifying.
We all care about traffic congestion, over-commercialization, zoning and schools. We have to have a comprehensive approach or at least an attempt at find a broader solution and it really needs to happen before Emory gets its way.
Residents of Druid Hills must be heard prior to Emory steamrolling the larger community. They are going to take matters into their own hands and 15 months from now we are going to wind up with 15 different annexation maps and maybe 15 challengers who actually care about the community.
Emory Annexation and light rail are not bad ideas but they cannot and should not be consummated in a vacuum. And that is precisely what is occurring.
Druid Hills Resident