Legislative window closing on proposals for Greenhaven, Vista Grove
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The drama over cityhood at Monday’s DeKalb County Legislative delegation meeting reached a new level of intensity.
There are two proposals for new cities in DeKalb.
A proposed city of Greenhaven, a large south DeKalb City that has been in the works since 2014, would have a population of 300,000 people. That would make it the second-largest city in Georgia behind Atlanta. Vista Grove, a proposed city for central DeKalb, includes much of the territory that was in the proposed city of LaVista Hills, which was defeated in 2015. Vista Grove would have a population of around 60,000 people.
According to witnesses, supporters of the proposed new cities of Vista Grove and Greenhaven showed up in force at the delegation meeting on Monday. Kathryn Rice, with the Greenhaven cityhood movement, was escorted out of the room by Capitol police after she tried to give a speech. Supporters of both cityhood movements cheered state Rep. Vernon Jones when he criticized other annexation proposals, specifically one related to Decatur’s plans to annex the former United Methodist Children’s Home property, now called Legacy Park. Decatur purchased the former UMCH property in 2017.
But for all the passion and intensity of the moment, the cityhood advocates left the delegation meeting without making any significant progress on their efforts. There are no bills for either city and Crossover Day — the last day for bills to move from one side of the Legislature to the other — is March 7.
“I think they have run out of time for this year,” state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver said. “I think a bill can still be introduced and still pass, but not before Crossover Day.”
Marjorie Snook, with cityhood opposition group DeKalb Strong, said Monday’s delegation meeting was one to remember.
“It was the wildest delegation meeting I’ve ever been to,” Snook said. “The cityhood issue keeps on raising the bar of wild and crazy behavior and it was a new one yesterday.”
The path for the cityhood bills is quickly narrowing for the 2019 session, Snook said.
“Here’s the thing: they have to do a first read, a second read, a Governmental Affairs Committee hearing, go through rules then go to the floor for a vote, all by the end of the day Thursday,” Snook said. “That’s a pretty heavy lift.”
Another obstacle, Snook said, is that the Governmental Affairs Committee amended its rules to rule out discussing any bills with a non-local sponsor. The rules are not the law, of course, and could be amended if committee members decide to do so.
Getting the bill passed this year is something both cityhood groups concede is unlikely.
Andrew Flake with Vista Grove said not moving on a bill this year is only delaying what he and other Vista Grove supporters see as the inevitable push toward making DeKalb County totally municipalized. That means there would be no unincorporated territory left. Everything in DeKalb would be in a city.
“As of now, we do not have a sponsor,” Flake said. “Crossover Day is coming up. That’s a concern, because we think a vote in 2019 is the right time. We think that provides plenty of opportunity for public discussion before a referendum. We think it’s important to have that vote now, while we know there’s a strong feasibility study. If a bill does not pass this year, we will be looking at referendum in 2020.”
Rice, with Greenhaven, was furious after Monday’s events. She said the delegation is creating a volatile situation in south DeKalb.
“They’re causing a situation to occur that has the potential to get more dangerous because they’re not doing their job,” Rice said.
When asked to elaborate, Rice said there was almost an altercation at a rally Greenhaven supporters held on Monday.
“Just like the United States where people didn’t have the opportunity to vote, they had to have civil action,” Rice said. “The police sic’ed the dogs on them and water hoses on them. We’re getting there, because they’re not doing their job.”
Decatur officials are not concerned that their annexation proposal for the former UMCH property will get caught up in the crossfire over cities.
City Manager Andrea Arnold said, “Representative Jones expressed his frustration with annexation in general and towards Decatur’s annexation bill. The bill is for the annexation of the Decatur Legacy Park properties and a handful of adjacent properties to avoid creating unincorporated islands. … It has been assigned to a committee and is moving along as anticipated.”
Everyone else’s plans will have to wait another year, unless something changes.
Snook said she doesn’t completely discount the possibility of a bill finding its way through the Legislature after Crossover Day.
As of right now, though, it looks unlikely she said.
“At this point, it takes a really really heavy lift to get it through the Legislature,” she said.
The Legislature adjourns on April 2.