Brookhaven’s Toco Hills annexation faces property owner opposition, validity questionsA map of the area proposed to be annexed from DeKalb County into the city of Brookhaven. Photo courtesy of the city of Brookhaven.
Brookhaven, GA — The Brookhaven City Council held a public hearing on June 28 regarding a petition to annex the Toco Hills and Merry Hills neighborhoods into the city.
The hearing followed a rezoning meeting held at Torah Day School on June 15, and a community meeting held by DeKalb County officials at the Central DeKalb Senior Center on June 27.
The petition, presented by Howard Ginsburg, has attracted criticism from both residents and county officials for lacking transparency, and some are now questioning whether some of the collected signatures are valid.
The 60% method allows an area to be annexed without a referendum, so long as 60% of the electors and 60% of the property owners by acreage support a petition for annexation.
Veronica Sciacca, a resident, said that many of the petition pages were not notarized with the required stamp. Sciacca also noted other irregularities.
“Two [of the properties on the list] are in Woodland Hills, which is not part of this site, and two are not notarized at all,” Sciacca said.
More seriously, resident Sharon Sadinoff said that neither she nor her husband signed the petition, but their property appears as one of the houses on the list.
“There is a document with both mine and my husband’s signatures on it. To be clear, we did not sign it. To be clear, they are not our signatures,” Sadinoff said, adding that she has notified DeKalb County.
Barry Bynum, a member of the congregation at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, said that he had been surprised to see a map that showed the church as having signed the application because the church was officially neutral. Bynum said that he had significant doubts about the affidavit for the church included in the application packet, and planned to speak to his church’s vestry, or legal representative.
City Attorney Jeremy Berry said that he would look into any allegations about irregularities in the petition and would report back to the mayor and council.
The annexation effort also faced opposition from commercial property owners in the area.
Herbert Ames, the managing director of EDENS, sent a letter to the Brookhaven City Council objecting to the inclusion of the Toco Hill Shopping Center in the area to be annexed. EDENS owns the shopping center.
Ames also spoke at the meeting and read part of the letter.
“DeKalb County and its officials have worked closely with EDENS during our ownership to redevelop this vital corridor of the county into a thriving commercial district for the community, business owners, and all of the residents who live, work, and recreate in the area,” Ames said.
Simon Engler, representing M & P Shopping Centers, said that the Briarvista Shopping Center requests not to be included in the annexation.
“We would prefer not to engage in litigation but believe that both the proposed annexation and the proposed rezoning are defective and violate our rights,” Engler said.
Nathan Hedges, a managing director for Allen Morris, said that his company had spent a lot of time and money studying the area and that they had been given no opportunity to sit down with the city.
Hedges asked that the city take no action before January 2024, which would allow enough time for planning and discussion.
Several residents echoed the call for deliberation.
Holden Joseph said, “My concerns are the speed that you’re taking over our lives without getting permission from us.”
Joseph urged the council to slow down until the community can have a conversation about the annexation plan.
“This is not Ukraine, and you’re not Russia,” Joseph said.
Other residents agreed.
“Before y’all jump, you need to take a deep breath,” Ronnie Mayer said.
DeKalb County District 2 Commissioner Michelle Long Spears pointed out that the 60% method does not allow citizens to vote on the annexation and that she felt the process lacked transparency and did not allow for full community discussion.
“To be clear, whether you support or oppose this annexation, you will not have a chance to vote in November,” Spears said. “…Folks are confused. Why were they included in the annexation footprint, why were they not? … I’m asking you to please slow this process down.”
Others criticized a lack of communication, vague and uninformative mailers, and fracturing of neighborhoods.
Resident Susan Dugan questioned the methods used to reach the 60% threshold and noted that some streets were cut in half, and some ends of streets were cut off.
“This looks like gerrymandering,” Dugan said.
Debbie Bodner, another resident, said that one side of her street is in the annexation area, but the other side is not. Bodner said that she originally signed the petition, but later withdrew her signature because she felt deceived.
“I’ve lived in that house for thirty years. I love my neighbors, I want us to remain neighbors,” Bodner said.
Marjorie Hall said that she founded DeKalb Strong in response to concerns about the municipalization of DeKalb and how often city lines were being drawn with no thought to the impact on the surrounding area.
Hall said that she saw the same problems with the Toco Hills annexation effort, in particular the lack of consideration of how the division of streets and creation of unincorporated islands will impact public safety.
“This is irresponsible,” Hall said. “This is not how government should work.”
Only three people spoke supporting the annexation at the city council meeting, one of whom was the applicant, Howard Ginsburg.
“I’ve done this on behalf of my friends and neighbors,” Ginsburg said.
Richard Dales said that he supported annexation because he would prefer to be included. Dales said that where he lives will become an island of unincorporated DeKalb County.
“There are four apartment complexes with about four thousand residents that are not being included in the annexation,” Dales said.
Later, after hearing other speakers, Dales reiterated that he favored annexation but echoed the caution to slow the process.
“For the mayor and city council, a marriage isn’t grab her by the hair and drag her to the altar. It’s supposed to be forever,” Dales said.
At the end of the public hearing, City Manager Christian Sigman said that the city had learned from both that hearing and the community meeting held by DeKalb commissioners on June 27. Sigman added that many of the questions posed by residents were grouped in ways that lent themselves to an online FAQ, and that he planned to have answers posted on the city website soon.
The Brookhaven City Council plans to vote on the Toco Hills/Merry Hills annexation on July 25.
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