Annexation plan weighs heavy in Avondale
By Jill Nolin, Contributor
The town of Avondale Estates will either have an annexation map for the Georgia Legislature to consider this session, or it won’t.
The latter option would leave the town’s boundary lines up to state legislators, who aren’t likely to be interested in the subtle nuances of city governance and local identity.
“I think, as I read what the legislature is doing, they’re not planning to operate with a scalpel,” Commissioner John Quinn said at a work session Wednesday night. “They’ve got a meat cleaver, and that’s sort of the level of detail that they’re working with. If we do nothing, I think that signals we’re agreeing to let others decide and we’ll live with whatever they decide.”
This discussion, which took place as part of interim Mayor Terry Giager’s update on the town’s annexation efforts, followed the first reading of an ordinance that would bring 154 townhomes into Avondale Estates and pump $105,177 into the town’s coffers.
There’s been no apparent resistance to the Stratford Green annexation plan. If approved, the acquisition would include about 400 people, boosting the town’s population to about 3,200. The neighborhood would bring in $133,449 in new revenue, which would be offset by the cost of expending city services, $28,271.
Stratford Green represents the kind of delicate balance the town officials are trying to strike with its broader annexation plan, as they weigh the benefits of the new additions with the burden of expanding city services.
“We’re going to look at the numbers, and if it’s financially feasible and viable for us as a city, then that’s the map we’re going to go with,” Giager said.
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Giager said Avondale Estates and Decatur have agreed to respect each other’s proposed map. There is no such agreement with people trying to form new cities around Avondale, like Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker. Those groups have until the end of the week to submit a proposed map to the state Legislature, or the Legislature will appoint a committee to draw the maps.
Giager spoke with a sense of urgency Wednesday as he stressed that the next session could very well be Avondale’s final opportunity to annex adjacent areas. Giager said all of the unincorporated areas in DeKalb County would likely be gone by 2016.
“This is our only chance to look at commercial property, because it’s going to be gone in a year and a half or two years,” Giager said. “We do have a risk of picking up residential properties without any commercial properties, and that, fiscally, would be very difficult on our city.”
Avondale is also at risk of losing Druid Hills High School to the city of Atlanta, which could diminish the town’s appeal with prospective homebuyers, he said. The Avondale map would include other school buildings, like Avondale High School.
“Is that a difficult step to take? Yes. But I can’t rule out the possibility of doing something later and giving our residents an opportunity for a possible school system,” he said. “I’m not recommending anything while I’m in office. I’m just saying we have to think about what we’re going to be as a city. Are we going to be empty nesters? Are we going to try to stay vibrant and thrive by giving opportunities to young families to come in and have children and go through a school and stay here?”
There has been discussion about Avondale partnering with landlocked City Schools of Decatur, but Giager said after Wednesday’s meeting that there is no proposal for such a plan.
The Stratford Green annexation may be moving effortlessly through the approval process, but the town’s other recent annexation efforts have not gone quite so smoothly.
This consternation was mostly due to a lack of public discussion on a bill that would have asked voters in Katie Kerr, Forrest Hills and commercial areas like the DeKalb Farmers Market whether they wanted to annex into Avondale. Many said they didn’t even know about the bill until several months later.
That bill, brought by state Rep. Karla Drenner at the request of then-Mayor Ed Rieker, was withdrawn at the end of the session. Last month, Rieker apologized for the way he handled the annexation effort. He resigned the day following a contentious public meeting on annexation, citing a professional opportunity.
Avondale officials have a Friday meeting scheduled with Drenner, who has been cold to the idea of sponsoring another annexation bill.
Avondale Estate’s annexation hits and misses occur as towns and aspiring municipalities throughout DeKalb County try to shore up support for their annexation plans for the upcoming legislative session, which starts in mid-January. If the bills are taken up this session, the referendum would take place next November.
Unincorporated communities, like Briarcliff and Lakeside, seek to break away from a county that has been dogged by a series of scandals, while small towns like Avondale Estates work to craft annexation plans before the opportunity to expand their boundary lines, and tax bases, is gone.
“We’re standing at a moment of opportunity, if we want to be optimists – or an opportunity of doom, if you want to be a pessimist,” Quinn said. “Unless we seize the initiative ourselves, someone else is going to be making those decisions for us. That’s a lot to think about.”