Cities, neighborhoods map DeKalb’s future

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt November 13, 2014
DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

DeKalb County Georgia. Source: Google Maps.

This story has been updated. 

Organizations working toward the creation of new cities in DeKalb County are finalizing their maps before a Nov. 15 deadline set by the state Legislature.

Mary Kay Woodworth, with LakesideYES, told Decaturish on Thursday that Lakeside and Briarcliff supporters are hopeful the Tucker supporters will join them.

“We are finishing the process of drawing a final map and picking a name for the joint effort,” Woodworth said. “Lakeside/Briarcliff plans to announce the final map soon, but are holding off until the legislature’s Nov. 15th negotiations deadline. We have made multiple offers to the Tucker cityhood movement and we’re still hopeful they’ll join our two groups in compromising. Until then, we think it would disrupt the process to release any new maps.”

DeKalb’s current cities are making maps of their own, firming up their annexation plans so they’ll be ready by the time legislators reconvene in January.

Neighborhoods like the Medlock and the Decatur Terrace are caught between competing interests.

Medlock wants to go into a city and take the Suburban Plaza shopping center with it. Decatur wants the shopping center but doesn’t want the 1,300 homes in the Medlock neighborhood because its school system already faces an enrollment crisis. The system’s current enrollment is 4,336 students. A consultant’s report on enrollment estimates that the city’s school system will grow to 7,398 students by 2020 without annexation in a high-growth scenario. If the city doesn’t annex more property, the school has limited options for growing within the city’s current borders.

Decatur Terrace, with its 147 properties, is in Avondale Estates’ annexation plans, but would prefer to be in Decatur’s. Decatur doesn’t want them either. Property owners in the Rio Circle area, a bounty of commercial tax revenue, have petitioned to join Decatur. But Decatur has taken the position that these areas in Avondale’s annexation plan and they are respecting that.


Avondale and Decatur may abide by their gentleman’s agreement, but their competitors will not. Druid Hills wants to annex into Atlanta, along with Emory University. The Druid Hills annexation map follows the boundary lines of the school attendance zones for Fernbank and Briar Vista Elementary Schools. That map extends all the way to Decatur’s western border and includes territory Decatur wants to annex.

During a special called work session on Wednesday between Decatur School Board members and the Decatur City Commission, Mayor Jim Baskett sounded surprised when School Board member Julie Rhame pointed this out.

The annexation map was actually proposed by an organization called Together in Atlanta. Together in Atlanta includes many of the same people who were a part of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster movement.

The Druid Hills group failed in its efforts to convert seven schools – Avondale Elementary, Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary, Laurel Ridge Elementary, McLendon Elementary, Druid Hills Middle School and Druid Hills High School – into a charter cluster.

The DeKalb County School Board wouldn’t consider the group’s petition, and it was withdrawn.

Together in Atlanta proposes annexing three of those schools – Briar Vista Elementary, Fernbank Elementary and Druid Hills High – into Atlanta.

Seeking Atlanta

That would mean that students in Avondale Estates would have to attend a different high school, with the caveat that Atlanta would have to take ownership of Druid Hills High.

Matt Lewis, of Together in Atlanta, believes case law supports the concept of Atlanta assuming ownership of the schools if the city annexes them. Decatur officials have been skeptical about that idea when asked why they don’t consider annexing areas, like Druid Hills, that already have school buildings.

Together in Atlanta has some natural advantages over other areas jockeying for position in the annexation race. Much of their organizational structure is already in place because of the charter cluster effort. They also have a simple premise behind their annexation proposal.

“What we’re trying to do is keep these elementary school zones together,” Lewis said. “That’s what’s motivating us.”

Together in Atlanta would be leaving its other charter school petitioners in Avondale behind. There’s no official word on what would happen to Avondale’s school feeder pattern if Druid Hills High went to another system. There’s been plenty of speculation, including rezoning those students to Towers High or Columbia High schools.

Avondale Estates Mayor Terry Giager said he doesn’t know for sure. He met with state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Avondale Estates, on Friday. Giager said she’s not sure what will happen to Avondale students if Atlanta annexes Druid Hills.

Tight spots

Do Lewis and the other Together in Atlanta members have any regrets about the possibility of leaving the Avondale schools behind?

“It’s impossible not to have some heartache over it,” Lewis said. ” … I do think it is entirely appropriate for communities to try to preserve their elementary school attendance zones. I don’t begrudge anybody the opportunity to try to maintain those elementary communities. Those are so fundamental to the public schools.”

There’s heartache enough to go around. Consider the predicament of state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur. Her district includes the city of Decatur, and she previously represented Medlock.

Medlock recently released the results of its annexation survey. Medlock received 438 completed surveys. According to the survey results, 61.9 percent of respondents would vote to join Decatur, if they had the option. But 63.5 percent would also vote to join Briarcliff or Lakeside if that was an option. The survey found 58 percent would vote to join Atlanta and 61.7 percent would support a one-year moratorium on all new cities in DeKalb County.

Another question asked, “All things being equal, what is your preferred outcome for the Medlock Park neighborhood?” According to the survey, 41.5 percent of respondents say Decatur is their “most favorite” option. The Medlock Area Neighborhood Association said the results are mixed and don’t give the board a “clear mandate.”

“Furthermore,” a statement from MANA says, “City of Decatur has made it clear that it wants to annex commercial property in and near our neighborhood but not the neighborhood as a whole. Decatur’s commercial annexation proposal is unreasonable and we will continue to fight it, as we believe North Decatur Road commercial properties should continue to primarily serve the established neighborhoods that they have been part of for so many years.”

As Decatur’s representative in the General Assembly, Oliver will be asked to introduce an annexation bill on the city’s behalf. That bill could tick off many of her former constituents in Medlock if it gives the city of Decatur the North Decatur Road commercial areas.

“All these disparate views represent conflicts that are difficult,” Oliver said. “My constituents are all over the map, all over the board, all over the place on how they want to move forward. Delegation members are going to be in many tight spots.”

Correction: An earlier version of this article misidentified the state representative whose district includes Medlock Park. The representative for Medlock is state Rep. Rahn Mayo, D-Decatur. 

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  • TJ_M

    MANA says: “..we believe North Decatur Road commercial properties should continue to primarily serve the established neighborhoods that they have been part of for so many years.”

    I don’t find this argument at all compelling. Medlock residents don’t enjoy a special claim to these commercial properties. My CoD home has patronized businesses on the North Decatur/Church St corridors for two decades. From the birth of our children and medical care in the DeKalb hospital and offices, to buying and servicing cars on Church street, to gas and groceries, to Pizza, Melton’s, Moe’s and bowling. I presume these businesses serve more customers who live in CoD than in Medlock.

    • Eh…Bola

      Once Decatur strip-mines the commercial properties from that area, there isn’t a compelling reason for ANY city to annex them. They’ll be on an unincorporated island, with no reason for any city to bring them into the fold. Those commercial areas are the only bargaining chip they have at the moment. Can’t really fault them for trying to fight the cherry-picking Decatur is angling for.

    • Locke

      I agree with TJ_M. I live in COD and have regularly shopped at all of these places for years. These commercial properties border COD, just like they border MANA. I understand MANA’s concerns and am somewhat sympathetic, but MANA has no special claim to them.

      • Jeff Boatright

        It’s a naked money grab.

        But hey, other than that, proceed.

    • Jeff Boatright

      My Medlock home has patronized businesses in Decatur Square for THREE decades. Pubs, restaurants, banks, car service, drug stores, home services, etc. I presume these businesses serve more customers who live in Medlock than in CoD.

      See how that works?

      • TJ_M

        If MANA had their act together they’d hurry up and form a city of 1400 households, grab the contested commercial strip, and then use the taxes from spending by the 9000 Decatur households in that strip to fund their schools. They might even have enough left over to turn the baseball fields into the wild dog park they’d prefer to have down there.

        • Jeff Boatright

          Gee TJ_M, you are full of great advice. “…hurry up and…” is right up there with “…hold my beer and watch this!…”

          Don’t misdirect. You somehow think the imagined spending habits of your neighbors should prevail as an argument to naked opportunism of your very local community over mine. Just admit it, own it, and wallow in it.

  • angel

    Unfortunately, one thing missing in this article is that not only will Avondale be left out of the Druid Hills annexation to ATL, Laurel Ridge Elm and McClendon Elm will also be without a high school.

    They can claim they want to keep the majority of the cluster together but it is unlikely. If Medlock does not decide to go to ATL, then Laurel Ridge can not (the properties must be attached.) The same goes for McClendon. Plus, each of these communities must agree to get in this fight to maintain our SCHOOL not any specific desire to go to one city of the other. These communities are forced into the annexation argument so our children have a high school to attend if Druid Hills takes it with them to Atlanta.

    Right now the numbers are fuzzy. 2/5 schools (Fernbank/Briarvista) are determining the fate of 1000 additional children’s high school future. That number doesn’t work for me and it doesn’t work for others. If Druid Hills wants to go, then fine. Leave the High School behind for the majority of the cluster to attend.

    • Responded to this in my reply to Littleesq. You raise a good point.

  • slowcat

    I am confused about the Atlanta annexation piece. In every annexation article I have read – on this blog and other publications – there are quotes from city and county elected officials concerning their positions on the annexation proposals that affect them. Yet, when it comes to Druid Hills and Atlanta, we have maps developed by Together in Atlanta (the group in Druid Hills seeking annexation) and no position from the city itself. Are we to assume that City of Atlanta is completely open to a bill going through the Legislature that takes the map developed by Together in Atlanta and adds it to the city? Does Atlanta have any kind of official position on this? There seems to be an assumption that CoA would be happy to annex any property that is contiguous and wants to be annexed, but I can’t find any verifiable information that supports that. What am I missing?

    • Atlanta has stayed remarkably quiet about all of this. It’s something I need to follow up on.

      • angel

        Another question I have… Would the Druid Hills community go to Atlanta if they couldn’t take their high school (even if they can take Fernbank/Briar Vista?) I think a lot of this is basically a mentality of Having Your Cake and Eating it Too (while stealing other people’s cake in the process.)

        This just came out:

      • TJ_M

        The two things most likely not to ever happen:
        1) Decatur annexing large areas of residential property
        2) Atlanta annexing Druid Hills

        • dixie_chicken

          Why do you think ATL would never annex Druid Hills, TJ_M? Seems like it’d be a big win to have that nice HS and all the property tax from those huge homes, no? This whole thing leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Others are right – NO big picture thinking, all looking out for only their best interests. Poor and working class folks will lose again in the end, I’m certain.

          • slowcat

            I don’t think the legality of annexing the elementary schools is at all clear, and the high school even less so. And yes, the property taxes may offset the cost of providing city services to those areas – but have there been any studies done to verify this? I guess we will wait to see what gets proposed to the legislature, but I am skeptical that Atlanta wants to get involved at this point. Maybe I am naive.

          • dgtlrift

            Agree with you slowcat, there are many variables that have to be considered if Atlanta (or Decatur) annex an area that has a school.

            The school realestate and facilities are the property of the county school board, so the city needs to purchase – this is the less complex part.

            The teachers, staff, etc, are employees of the county school and have pensions, benefits, salaries, and seniority that needs to be converted over as part of negotiation – and I believe that is where things get sticky.

          • TJ_M

            One reason dixie_chicken is that the annexation interest appears to be asymmetric:

            I presume Atlanta sees more costs than revenue from Druid Hills due to the high density of residential.

        • DHH

          Druid hills is Atlanta adjacent. In fact some of DH is actually already in Atlanta. Emory has strategically purchased sufficient property on Briarcliff to annex to Atlanta using the 100% process. The Southwest corner DH -Stillwood, Normandy, Virginia Terrace are effectively already in Virginia Highlands, with some of those residences literally West of Springdale Park Elementary. I think that Southwest corner will annex (either piecemeal or in chunks) no matter what happens to the larger DH area. DH is a residential area that is logical for annexation. Further, the history of Atlanta has been one of gradual annexation of these once outer areas which are now effectively in-town. Think of Inman park as once a bedroom community just outside of the city limits. Atlanta is flush with commercial, so I don’t think annexation of residential is an issue. To answer Slowcats question, I believe Atlanta is in fact interested, but doesn’t want to show its hand. Michael Thurmond states that he basically heard it from a guy, who knows another guy, that Atlanta is not interested. As Thurmond is the individual who simultaneously blocked the Druid Hills Cluster and then approved a separate cluster in South Dekalb, I would consider anything he says to be the opposite of reality. Matt Westmoreland (ironic name) from APS, has come to many of the annexation meetings, and his body language and remarks (affirmative nodding, stating that DH annexation is something they are following) reveals that APS has put thought into annexation. Alex Wan, from Atlanta City Council has effectively stated that DH will be welcome to Atlanta but that he doesn’t want to recruit. My personal feeling is that there will not be wholesale annexation of DH in the next year, but that as the corridor of unincorporated Dekalb gets smaller, with rising Dekalb property taxes, that it will eventually happen.

  • littleesq

    I agree with angel’s comments. This article does not mention that if Druid Hills annexes into Atlanta, the rest of the cluster (and not just Avondale): Laurel Ridge, McClendon, and Druid Hills Middle, will be left without a high school. While the heads of the Druid Hills annexation process claim that precedent says Atlanta will get Druid Hills high school, we have yet to be told what that precedent is, and whether it is on point; I.e., that the majority of the existing students can be left without a high school. The entire annexation and incorporation process is absolute chaos, with everyone thinking about their own wants and needs and not thinking about the bigger picture — what, and who, gets left behind. Whether it be an island of unincorporated DeKalb, people who do not want to be incorporated and/or annexed being forced into a city, or our children left without a high school. There are so many consequences to all of these decisions that seem to be moving so quickly that the ramifications will be seen only after it is too late.

    • Point well taken. The article covers a lot of ground and any omissions are not intentional on my part. I was thinking in terms of the impact on the specific communities we cover, like AE. But you know, we are DecaturISH, so I need to redouble my efforts to be more inclusive of all of our DeKalb communities.

      • angel

        It’s overwhelming and very confusing! I can hardly keep up with it myself and I have ties to all the neighborhoods involved. Thank you for writing about it!

      • littleesq

        I apologize if I appeared to criticize your article, as that was not my intent. This entire process has been so frustrating, confusing, especially for those of us that are either included in an unwanted new city or not included in our high school possibly being gone. There will be so many collateral consequences of these decisions and the movements are like steamrollers. My frustration has been with the process, and to bring to the forefront the other issues. Thanks so much for bringing these issues to everyone, Dan!

        • No need to apologize at all. I really appreciate thoughtful feedback. News should be a two-way conversation between us and our readers. As long as you aren’t making personal attacks, you’ll have no quarrel with me. The nice thing about publishing every day is we always get another bite at the apple.

  • HB

    Posted similar in other thread: The SMART answer would probably be to incorporate the intown properties (Toco/Briarcliff/N. Decatur areas),
    and leave out the contended areas (Northlake), for now. Neither Lakeside nor Tucker should be forcing the hand of the homeowners in these bordering areas. That way, the bordering areas can poll themselves and annex in later as they choose–not as some bureaucrat decides for them. Sanity doesn’t appear to be prevailing though.

    It’s hard to imagine that a new “suburban” city as Lakeside envisions it is going to pass, given that suburbs are on such a downtrend. It would be bad news for intown property owners to lose our affiliation to the intown lifestyle. The new intown city should logically be kept ITP, and cut off at the perimeter. And then it should build infrastructure to support real walkability and transit.

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