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DeKalb commissioners call for more transparency, accountability in Brookhaven annexation petition

Annexation, new cities Brookhaven DeKalb County

DeKalb commissioners call for more transparency, accountability in Brookhaven annexation petition

DeKalb County Government Manuel J. Maloof Center in downtown Decatur. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Brookhaven, GA — The DeKalb County Board of Commissioners, at its July 11 meeting, approved a resolution calling for facts, transparency, accountability, and clarity as Brookhaven considers a large annexation petition. The board is also considering a resolution objecting to the petition, meaning the council will have to decide whether to approve it.

A petition for Brookhaven to annex the Toco Hills and Biltmore Acres neighborhoods, bounded by Briarcliff Road, Lavista Road and North Druid Hills Road, has passed the 60% threshold required to move forward, though there have been questions about the validity of some of those signatures. The Brookhaven City Council is set to vote on the annexation petition on July 25 at 7 p.m. at Brookhaven City Hall, 4362 Peachtree Road.

The resolution the county commission approved on Tuesday is intended to give a voice to individuals and business owners in the annexation area. DeKalb Commissioner Michelle Long Spears introduced the resolution on June 27.

“… On June 5, 2023, the city of Brookhaven provided the county with email notice of a petition to annex 606 acres of land adjacent and near North Druid Hills Road and surrounding the Toco Hill Shopping Center into the city of Brookhaven,” Spears said. “…The state law authorizing the 60% method of annexation does not allow for the people being annexed to vote in an election for or against such annexation.”

Since receiving the annexation notice, the county has worked to obtain facts about the annexation petition and review the 1,700 pages of the petition. About 62.3% of the landowners and 64.3% of active voters signed the petition, Spears added.

She also noted that concerns were raised at a meeting on June 15 by residents living in the proposed area to be annexed. Decaturish previously reported that at the June 15 meeting, no one seemed to know who was behind the petition effort.

“…These two articles report secretive and misleading behavior related to this annexation effort that is alarming and of concern to DeKalb County as all of the landowners and electors in this area should be given complete, accurate and transparent facts about this annexation petition, as well as a full opportunity to be heard by the elected officials in the city before this annexation petition is approved by the city of Brookhaven,” Spears said.

She mentioned concerns raised in an opinion piece published by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The article states that the annexation would bring in 4,200 residents and $279 million in assessed property valuation to the city of Brookhaven. The area would be annexed into the city from unincorporated DeKalb County.

“The Toco Hill (or Hills, as most prefer to say) shopping center has not signed up to be annexed but it would be dragged in to the city because adjacent residents want in. That’s how the law reads,” the AJC article says. “Both Brookhaven and DeKalb officials say the owners of the mall, which has been substantially renovated and is really two separate properties, have chosen to stay quiet. Business owners can’t win getting mixed up in such matters.”

The county commission deferred acting on the resolution objecting to the annexation petition until a special called meeting on July 18 following the committee of the whole meeting.

“State law allows counties to object to annexations under certain circumstances,” the legislation text states. “DeKalb County received email notice from the City of Brookhaven dated June 5, 2023 of its intent to act on a proposed annexation application via the sixty percent (60%) method submitted by Howard I. Ginsburg. The Application seeks to annex approximately 462 acres of privately-owned land into the City of Brookhaven, including properties located between and around North Druid Hills Road and LaVista Road. The County Attorney and relevant County staff are investigating grounds for an objection to the proposed annexation.”

The city of Brookhaven has also called for an annexation referendum on the November ballot for all the unincorporated area south of I-85 and west of Clairmont Road. Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst sent a letter to the county on July 8 requesting the referendum.

During a special called meeting on June 30, the Brookhaven City Council approved a resolution calling on the county to place an annexation referendum on the ballot.

The annexation area proposed by the city for the referendum encompasses the territory included in an annexation petition using the 60% method, which requires 60% of electors and 60% of landowners to agree. The petition was presented by Howard Ginsburg but created with the help of Rosetta Stone Communications, a company hired by the city of Brookhaven.

The larger annexation area would also include the unincorporated islands that would otherwise be created by the earlier petition.

That petition has since been subject to questions about the validity of some of the signatures collected.

Amid the calls for more transparency, Ernst said a referendum would do just that.

“State law concerning citizen-initiated annexations – regardless of adjacent city support – is complex and unnecessarily burdensome,” Ernst wrote in the letter. “County and city officials have heard from the community that they want more transparency, and they do not want neighborhoods split. There is nothing more transparent than putting the question to a referendum and letting voters determine their future.”

He also invited the county commissioners to Brookhaven City Hall for a public discussion on the county’s position on a referendum.

“As elected fellow officials, we trust you will provide publicly a rationale why property owners and electors should or should not be allowed to vote on annexation into the city of Brookhaven,” Ernst said. “While the county contemplates the call for a referendum, the city of Brookhaven will continue the verification process on the current annexation application and accept any subsequent annexation applications that may be pending.”

“In closing, all county residents have a right to seek better services and lower taxes, while also remaining citizens of DeKalb County,” he added.

To read the full letter, click here.

Here’s a look at the expanded annexation area:

The city of Brookhaven is calling to annex the expanded area of influence via a referendum on the ballot in November. Photo courtesy of the city of Brookhaven.

The brown area on the map is the annexation area of the petition submitted by Ginsburg. The gray portion is the area the city of Brookhaven is proposing to annex via a referendum.

Writer Sara Amis contributed to this story. 

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