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Decatur City Commission accepts annexation petition for site slated for mixed-use project

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Decatur City Commission accepts annexation petition for site slated for mixed-use project

Decatur City Hall.

Decatur City Hall.

The Decatur City Commission on Monday, Feb. 5, accepted an annexation petition that could eventually bring a mixed use development into the city.

The City Commission did not discuss the petition or ask any questions about it before unanimously voting to accept it during Monday’s meeting. Commissioners elaborated on the petition when contacted by Decaturish after the meeting adjourned.

Accepting the petition is only the first step in a lengthy process. There will be public hearings and the petition will also have to be vetted by DeKalb County.

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Publicly, the city has been saying for weeks that it did not anticipate any annexation this year. In early November, the City Commission and the School Board held a work session and indicated the only annexation on the horizon would be connected to the city’s recent purchase of the United Methodist Children’s Home.

Soon after that meeting, the owners of 11 parcels filed a petition with the city using the 100 percent method, meaning the owners of all properties in the affected area signed off on it. The parcels are zoned industrial, but a developer is planning a mixed-use project there, one that is rumored to include a Publix grocery store. The developer is Alliance Realty Services.

Decatur Mayor Pro Tem Tony Powers said a draft he saw proposed an apartment complex with 225 to 240 units. A plan filed with DeKalb County for the project showed 270 units. In March 2017, planning staff for the county recommended denial of a proposal to change the land use designation of the parcels from light industrial to a “neighborhood center” designation.

Powers said early estimates show the project would add 25 to 30 children to Decatur’s schools, but the revenue generated from the project would more than cover the cost of educating them.

“With our metrics that we use to evaluate, it’s a net positive for the school system,” Powers said.

The petition will go to DeKalb County and will also be heard by the Decatur Planning Commission, according to Powers and Mayor Patti Garrett.

The city has not been considering single family residential annexation petitions. That came up at the recent City Commission retreat, held Jan. 25 and Jan. 26 in Young Harris, Ga.

City Manager Peggy Merriss said during the retreat that the city was open to the possibility of commercial annexations. The city considers a mixed-use development to be commercial property.

“Your policy right now is, ‘We’re not accepting applications for single parcel residential annexations, and we’ll look at commercial mixed use as the opportunities show up,'” Merriss told the City Commission during the retreat.

The annexation petition was in the city’s hands for more than two months by the time the commission held the retreat, but it was not discussed during the retreat.

Commissioners had little to say about the annexation petition at Monday’s meeting. They didn’t ask any questions. Christine Hunsaker, who owns Your Pet Crematory on East Ponce, spoke during public comments and assured the city there would be “very heavy opposition” to the annexation proposal. She said the mixed use development will encroach on the industrial businesses near the proposed annexation area.

“I’m extremely disappointed in this acceptance,” she said. “It seems like the gentlemen who are putting forward the petition are doing an end run around the county. It’s a way for them to load us up with more congestion or apartments.”

Commissioners said after the meeting that the acceptance of the petition is the start of a lengthy process and that approval of a mixed-use project is not assured.

“The acceptance of the petition and any change in land use or zoning would come before us, and it would be most likely contingent on what they want to do with the property,” Mayor Garrett said. “There are a lot of steps in-between before anything happens with that particular piece of property.”

Commissioner Scott Drake described the acceptance of the petition as routine.

“Anyone can bring a petition for annexation at any time,” Drake said. “You typically accept it.”

He said something could come up during the city staff’s investigation that could cause the city to decide against annexing the properties.

“I think it has got a lot of staff time before it even gets to that, because who knows what the staff is going to uncover in that area,” Drake said. “It’s not part of the city. There’s a lot of things they have to look at and take into consideration.”

Editor’s note: Decaturish reported some of this story by viewing a live stream of the Feb. 5 City Commission meeting. 

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