Howdy neighbor – Parkwood’s path to Decatur

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt April 22, 2014
An image from the Parkwood service delivery report. Source: City of Decatur

An image from the Parkwood service delivery report. Source: City of Decatur

The Parkwood neighborhood joined the city of Decatur on Monday. Soon residents there will be paying city taxes and sending their kids to city schools.

Bringing the neighborhood into the city limits required working through some weighty issues involving historic preservation and the educations students who already attend school in DeKalb County.

Some residents questioned commissioners about why they would annex a residential area that would add students to the city’s rapidly swelling classrooms. The annexation won’t increase the city’s commercial tax base and is expected to add 14 students to the school system in the first year.

Mayor Jim Baskett said the answer is pretty simple: Parkwood asked to become part of Decatur.

“We didn’t reach out to Parkwood,” Baskett said. “They reached out to us and they made a very strong case for their desire to be annexed.”

Residents in Parkwood said they began talking about joining Decatur when they realized that Parkwood might become part of one of DeKalb’s newest cities. Incorporation efforts spurred the city of Decatur to begin its own investigation of how to annex commercial areas before other cities absorb them. Cityhood efforts didn’t make it out of the General Assembly this year, but people looking to create cities of Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker already are talking about next year.

The Parkwood annexation process itself was relatively brief. The residents in favor of it filed their annexation petition on Jan. 23 using what’s known as the “60 percent method.” The annexation law requires petitioners to get the signatures representing 60 percent of land owners and registered voters. According to one letter opposed to the annexation, 54 owners signed the petition and 22 did not sign. The annexation will bring 77 parcels containing 75 homes into the city, effective July 1. Of those parcels, about 16 already are partially in the city limits.

The Parkwood neighborhood includes a 3 acre green space, Parkwood Park, and a historic past. The neighborhood plat was first laid out in the 1920s, according to the annexation petition. The homes were developed between 1948 and 1960. Some of the neighborhood is part of Historic Druid Hills. During the April 21 meeting, commissioners said that historic designation won’t carry over when Parkwood becomes part of Decatur on July 1.

That raises a question about whether there will be a period where builders and developers can purchase older homes in Parkwood, knock them down and rebuild them as bigger homes. The tear-down debate continues to roil the community and its part of what the city is trying to address in its current zoning code rewrite, known as unified development ordinance.

During the April 21 meeting, commissioners discussed enacting a moratorium on tear-downs specifically for Parkwood to give the residents time to reestablish their historic status.

Andy Vocaire, who has acted as spokesman for the Parkwood residents, said the group is supportive of the idea.

“If we were annexed into Decatur, the intention would be to set up a moratorium on full demolitions of dwellings that would give the neighborhood a chance to create a new historic district,” he told commissioners before their vote. “If it was approved, we would reach out to Druid Hills to see if we could stay associated with Druid Hills (Historic District).”

Amanda Thompson, the city’s planning director, told commissioners that planning staff would be asking the city to take official action to prevent tear-downs while Parkwood works toward becoming a historic district.

The other point of contention involved school enrollment. Parents of seniors at Druid Hills High asked commissioners to delay the annexation to give their students time to graduate. The city’s attorney researched the issue and found that the city has wiggle room to delay enrollment for students who still want to attend Druid Hills until they graduate.

The City Commission modified the annexation ordinance so the effective date of the annexation is July 1, but parents with rising seniors who write to the city manager by June 1, 2014 can have their school enrollment date deferred until July 1, 2015.

Baskett said the attorney found the city had “some flexibility on the enrollment dates of the school because of special wording that relates to independent school systems.”

Vocaire said residents of Parkwood are thrilled to be able to call Decatur home.

“We are extremely delighted by the City Commissioners’ decision …,” he said.  “Throughout the annexation process, the City of Decatur has been exceptionally responsive, and has shown their desire to allow residents who are proactive the chance to make positive changes within their communities.  The Parkwood neighborhood is excited by this outcome and ready to start contributing to such a thriving city.”

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  • Kupe

    For me the Mayor’s answer, “Mayor Jim Baskett said the answer is pretty simple: Parkwood asked to become part of Decatur.”, is extremely scary. I don’t know if he really meant what it sounds like, but it says if surrounding neighborhoods want to be part of Decatur they can. The fact that this is left up to people outside of the city limits does not make sense to me. The beauty of Decatur for me is the small town in a big city. With the success Decatur has had there is no end to areas wanting to be annexed. The bigger we get the worse it gets. See Atlanta and Dekalb County for example of that.

    I could not make the meeting last night due to travel, but as a city resident I am against these types of annexations (no offense to our new Parkwood families). This is just a slippery slope that I am concerned about. I just hope the city commisioners are listening more to the current residents than the one wanting to be new ones.

    • genXmama

      I agree. That is ridiculous, disgraceful answer by our mayor. He owes us an explanation, not a brush off. As a parent of 2 children in City of Decatur Schools I am already experiencing the effects of overcrowding in the classroom, overstretched resources and the resulting declining quality of education.

    • HomeInDecatur

      The mayor did not say “the answer is pretty simple”, he actually gave several reasons for the annexation including that the Parkwoods were already on the annexation plan, they project to be revenue positive, and they did not hear any major concerns from the school board. You can see for yourself what was said at the link below.

      • Kupe

        Thanks for the link. Not sure I knew about that before…very helpful.

        My feelings still stand regarding annexation and growth. Schools are one issue, not the only one.

  • Blurgh

    I agree completely–annexation no. Of note, there has been no proposed solution to overcrowding of college heights with some residents not even having spots for next year. To think we should add volume to the school system when we can’t manage the children who are already here is crazy. It’s also worrisome that well-to-do, affluent neighborhoods are annexed when less pricey neighborhoods who have requested annexation have not been seriously considered.

    • Steve Vogel

      Which “less pricey” neighborhoods are you referencing?

      • JayDanz

        Maybe Midway Woods?

        • HomeInDecatur

          Annexing more valuable properties means more tax revenue and thus more money to address overcrowding.

        • Blurgh

          Yes/ Forrest Hills

        • Steve Vogel

          The neighborhoods you referenced have not formally requested to be annexed using the “60 percent” method that Parkwood did. If and when they do, I’m sure their request will be considered in the same manner.

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