DeKalb Cityhood committee meets

Posted by Dan Whisenhunt December 3, 2014

The scene at the DeKalb County Cityhood Subcommittee of Governmental Affairs meeting. Photo by Dan Whisenhunt

The House DeKalb County Cityhood Subcommittee of Governmental Affairs is holding a hearing at the state Capitol today to hear arguments from supporters of the proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker.

LaVista Hills, comprised of the former Briarcliff and Lakeside cityhood movements, and Tucker, could not reach an agreement by a Nov. 15 deadline. The House Governmental Affairs committee Chairperson Rep. Amy Carter, R-Valdosta, appointed the five-person subcommittee to settle the matter. is here along with representatives from other cityhood movements like the City of South DeKalb. We will update this post throughout the hearing. The hearing was broadcast live and the archived video will be posted online.

1:12 – Hearing has started. LaVista Hills is presenting first. Tucker reps are OK with that.

Allan Venet, co-chair of LaVista Hills YES: “Two of the three groups agreed to merge. The bad news is we were unable to reach a compromise (with Tucker). That failure is a failure we all share. We all tried. We all failed and I guess we all apologize for having put this in your laps.”

LaVista Hills Supporter: “The city’s commitment to a police force is a key reason for my support.”

LaVista Hills Supporter No. 2: “We are not Tucker. We are LaVista Hills and we need to be in LaVista Hills.”

Another LaVista Hills cityhood supporter says property owners around Northlake Mall have agreed to a division of property that would make Tucker and LaVista viable.

1:40 pm: State Rep. Mark Hamilton, R-Cumming, asks for clarification. If the committee does not come to an agreement by Dec. 31, does the cityhood issue die for the 2015 session. Chairperson Rep. Buzz Brockway says, “If the five of us fail to draw a map, the five of us are done as far as this process goes. Nothing at any point stops the two groups from coming together and saying, ‘We’ve had a breakthrough and we can agree on this.'”

Brockway adds that the House Governmental Affairs Committee is waiving the “two year rule” which requires a feasibility study before a city can be formed. If a map is agreed upon, legislation can be introduced next year, Brockway says.

1:43 pm: State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver, D-Decatur says, “If we’re going to not require new feasibility studies … the financial data on the commercial area becomes relevant to me.”

1:44 pm: Tucker cityhood supporters presenting now.

Frank Auman with Tucker 2015 is presenting now. His presentation is partially blocked by a giant pillar in the hearing room.

Auman: “This map wouldn’t require a new feasibility study to be done. … Tucker is good to go. It’s demonstrated its economic feasibility on this map.”

Auman: “We’ve said from the beginning that Northlake is and always has been closely associated with Tucker and that hasn’t changed just because they ran an interstate (I-285) through the middle of town.”

Auman: “It’s a pretty powerful statement when a business person defines their market.” Notes that businesses in Tucker in 2013 voted to form a Community Improvement District, a self-taxing entity.

Auman said Holy Cross Church recently celebrated its jubilee, “in Tucker, a special and holy place in Tucker Georgia where God reigns. I’m not saying this lightly.” That got a laugh.

2:09 pm: Auman is being told he’s going over his allotted time. He asks for one minute to wrap up.

Auman: “The question is not can tucker do with less. The question is, is there a good reason to split it up?”

Tucker wrapped up at 2:12 pm.

Members of the panel quizzing Auman now.

Hamilton asks what services Tucker intends to provide.

Auman says zoning, parks, and code enforcement. He says he feels the decision to take on a police department is not something the cityhood group feels comfortable making before a city is formed and a council is elected.

2:20 pm:

Oliver: “I think land-use control is very very much at the heart of what citizens want. That’s very very important more so than you might realize from Harlem, GA.” Directed at Rep. Barry Fleming, R-Harlem.

Fleming: “All we have is farms.”

Oliver: “They’re lovely farms.”

Brockway wonders if people in the contested area between LaVista and Tucker who favor LaVista would change their minds if Tucker decides to offer police services.

Hamilton asks both groups if they would become a city of all of the Northlake Mall area went to one city or the other. Both said yes.

Venet with LaVista Hills adds, “We would want to go forward. Whether we could go forward is a different question.”

2:30 pm.

State Rep. Scott Holcomb, D-Atlanta, is speaking. If LaVista Hills moves forward he would live in this proposed city.

“I believe our job is to make the process as fair and transparent as possible,” he says.

Holcomb says that Tucker’s cityhood movement is driven more by a sense of history while LaVista’s is driven more by a sense that residents could create better government than they currently have with DeKalb County.

Holcomb says he is concerned about letting a cityhood bill move forward without being certain whether they are economically viable.

“I have a lot of concerns. no new malls have been built in the United States since 2006,” he says, referring to Northlake Mall. “I have a little bit of personal concern about whether that’s smart to make it the economic engine of it.”

Holcomb also warns against going back to a compromise map developed in the 2014 session.

“The compromise map was strongly disfavored by the Northlake business community,” Holcomb says. “I would urge you not to go back to the compromise map agreed to at the end of the last session.”

Oliver adds that the compromise map was, “Not a fair and transparent compromise.”

Holcomb also recommends that the General Assembly, “Stop any annexations from going forward if the map is agreed to” by both cityhood movements.

2:40 pm. Hearing is over time and there are more than 40 people signed up for public comment. Brockway asks speakers to limit themselves to 1 minute, minute and a half.

Due to prior obligations, this will conclude our coverage of this hearing. One of our readers stuck around and summarized some of the public comments in the comments section beneath this article. 

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  • HB

    Northlake Business Association representative just came out with a request that the border between the two cities be set at I-285, as it “makes most sense.” Policing concerns cited as reason not to split the business community down Lavista.

  • HB

    Shamrock/Laurel Hills area requests to be left off Lavista Hills map.

  • HB

    ITP spokesman listing reasons why Lavista Hills only benefits those who live OTP and “damages and impairs” properties who are intown. (Bravo, agreed.)

  • HB

    Sagamore Hills resident urges Legislature to put all maps aside and keep North Dekalb unincorporated and “together”, and repeats concern of OTP being the only beneficiary of a Lavista Hills map.

  • HB

    Those speaking in favor of Lavista Hills all coming from OTP residents only. All conveying fears that Tucker City won’t provide essential police services. So far no LH supporters from ITP.

  • HB

    Tucker residents speaking in favor of Tucker, citing community and history, and no need to revise viability study. Saying they are smarter not to offer policing in order not “to over-promise”.

  • HB

    ex-Tucker Civic Assoc member, lives OTP just outside 285, claims Tucker “holding them hostage”, says her neighborhood overwhelmingly prefer to be in Lavista Hills

    • Mark Snyder

      It’s sad but she has no idea how many people in the neighborhood actually support Tucker. She’s been so rabid in her opinions that they simply agree with her to get her to go away, much like the folks who signed Liz Hanfelt’s petition to get her to stop knocking on their door but who then sent checks to Tucker. What’s fascinating about someone saying they’re being held hostage by Tucker is that she made the choice to purchase a home in Tucker. Am I a hostage if I thrust myself into the arms of the kidnapper and then scream? What she also said if you were listening is that she doesn’t feel like she’s part of Tucker because it’s “country.” Huh? Sounds like someone has gotten swept up in “the cool kids asked me to sit at their table in the cafeteria!” mentality. I’m sorry she couldn’t afford to purchase a home inside the perimeter and that she is sad she’s in Tucker, but she should move – not try to force all her neighbors into a city they didn’t choose.

  • HB

    ex-Board member from Briarcliff, presents land-use map showing that an I-285 border presents the truest compromise, urges acceptance of Rep Scott Holcombs recommendation to keep Evandale with Lavista Hills. Other Evansdale resident urging need for dedicated police force.

  • HB

    Tucker supporter says he like Dekalb policing just fine. Another Tucker resident from near Midvale says they like Tucker because his wife grew up there, and remembers the old shops, and that he believes that the only reason the others in his neighborhood like Lavista Hills is because they believe that Lakeside schools are better. Winding Woods neighborhood watch leader says Tucker map is better because it doesn’t bisect her community down Crestcliff.

  • HB

    Commentary from community summarized below, in reverse chronological order. Overview: Tucker fears losing its history, and says having no dedeciated police force at outset is “smarter.” There were no ITP people, aside from Lavista Hills officials, who came out in support for Lavista Hills map. Their only support coming from those in Evansdale and other OTP neighborhoods who want their properties identified more with the existing ITP areas and school systems.

    • Thank you so much for adding your comments from the hearing. I regret not being able to stay for the whole thing.

      • HB

        You’re welcome. Glad to take over while I was there. And now, putting my “opinion” hat back on ITP people, open your eyes wide and proceed with caution. There is value in cityhood, for certain. But NOT in Lavista Hills as they currently have it. If Tucker and Brookhaven get the primary commercial areas, and Atlanta gets the parks, we would be left with no parks, no Mason Mill senior center, no tax base except for homeowner taxation, and a bisected school feeder system. It’s a bad plan. Let’s wait out this one and create a much better, smarter plan for ourselves.

        • Spencer

          ITP properties are already bundled with OTP properties by virtue of DeKalb County AND the school feeder pattern — and it has no impact on desirability of individual neighborhoods. Real estate is FAR more localized than that. There are many reasons to take a good hard look at any cityhood plan rather than jump in blindly. But that one’s a red herring. I’ll stake my intown property value on it.

          • HB

            I’m not so sure myself, Spencer. Oak Grove would be listed as Lavista Hills, subject to the lower per capita averages and housing values in searches and listings. (If Pleasantdale stays in the mix) This will lower perceptions with new buyers over time. I just left Tucker and paid a premium to have stable values here in an Emory community. Being in LH is going to wipe out that value. (Are politicians selling us homeowners out just so they can get re-elected? I’m really not seeing any other reason why a new intown city would draw that area in. Somebody clue me in.) And with no serious commercial base left, supporting the outer suburbs will be primarily on the tax nickel of intown homeowners. I suppose the ‘bright side’ is there would be no LH parks or senior centers to have to finance.

          • Mark Synder

            The OTP areas are included in the map solely because of the Republican votes they bring to a referendum. ITP voters are largely “blue” especially now that Lakeside had to take some of Briarcliff to survive financially. The OTP map is specifically drawn around traditionally Republican leaning areas. I have a theory on my Pleasantdale was added to the LaVista Hills map but I’ll let you do your own research on why Brookhaven had to take Buford Highway….let’s just say the Justice Department frowns on mostly white cities.

    • Keith Hanks

      One of the notable takeaways was this meeting primarily focused on the overlap between LaVista Hills and Tucker — not a larger cityhood discussion. This is likely why more attention was given to pro LaVista Hills and pro Tucker people within this overlap and why each group focused on voices living in the overlap. All interested opinions are important and drawing this part of the map is the major hurdle holding back moving forward. Unlike other parts of middle DeKalb that were not included in a map, the contested area between proposed cities is packed with pro cityhood folks. They are some of the most engaged and educated on the cityhood topic. While Tucker has a great storyline on the history of Tucker as a community that is loved and embraced by many, the residents in the overlap seem to lean towards LaVista Hills, particularly around 1) a desire for heightened police presence / response times, and 2) the ability to address road maintenance and establish sidewalk interconnectivity. Tucker doesn’t offer these services, and defends not offering them, making it a clear differentiator between city visions for residents of the disputed area. All of this of course hinges on a map that sets the cities up for success and autonomy. Unlike the proposed Decatur or Brookhaven annexations this isn’t a dispute on just commercial land — this disputed area involves many thousands of residents. These residents are pro city, have done their homework, and have preferences for LaVista Hills or Tucker.

      • Mark Snyder

        Keith Hanks, your remarks are inaccurate and they highlight the strategy LaVista is using given they have no rationale for their map (which was the stated goal of the presentations yesterday). Tucker will offer police and public works, and those things were addressed yesterday. Tucker is a largely fiscally conservative community, and are smart enough not to hang their “property owner tax bill” hats on a failing Northlake Mall. Tucker is not putting homeowners in debt from day one issuing bonds to pay for a police force we don’t need. Instead we’ll use a portion of our $3 million reserves (our feasibility study which is still valid given our map hasn’t lost huge commercial areas like LaVista Hills) to contract for additional police officers on the streets dedicated solely to the Tucker community. As for response times, that argument holds no weight. The entire Tucker portion of the LaVista Hills map will be an outlier of a city heavily located inside the perimeter. Tucker currently has 2 police precincts in its map so right now no citizen is more than 4 miles away from a precinct. Response times and crime rates are fabricated arguments. Crime in the Tucker precinct area is down 20% over last year, and in the Center Precinct down 18% over last year. With regard to public works, you can get a whole lot of potholes fixed and roads paved when you’re issuing contracts to private companies rather than hiring on government employees and buying trucks and other equipment. This most laughable part of this whole argument about services is that the Lakeside/LaVista Hills effort is led by Republicans – isn’t that the party that boasts about no big government and fiscal responsibility? Yet they are attacking Tucker for taking that approach. That highlights the lack of any other justification for their map or their city. I have been surprised to see you being so vocal for LaVista Hills given how much you said against Lakeside last year. Same folks are leading the movement this year. I guess when you described yourself at a Dekalb Task Force meeting a few months ago as a “free agent” you meant you were going to the highest bidder. I hope their offer was worth it.

        • Keith Hanks

          Tucker should be a city. I’ve always defended that and I was one of the only ITP folks to testify on their behalf before. They have a discernible vision from LaVista Hills. Peachtree Corners in Gwinnett took a similar city-light approach of transferring three minimal services from the county. The LaVista Hills group is bipartisan, I can understand that doesnt always fit the narrative for the anti-cityhood crowd, but it turns out being tired of the status quo is bigger than political parties. This is a good thing as it provides balance in opinion. In terms of questioning my integrity of selling to the highest bidder, let me know if you can think of a way for me to cash in, because I sure haven’t thought of any.

          • HB

            With much respect, you reveal again the crux of concern. You say Tucker has a discernable vision apart from LH But your current map takes in an even farther area, Pleasantdale, which is even more discernable. No economic explanation offered when asked below, just a subtle reference about snobbery, which this isn’t about. There is simply no economic or community connection to that area and the Emory Oak Grove area, which would be burdened to send oversized chunks of our money there rather than keeping our dollars local, which is the entire point. Sorry to see the gerrymandering in play, and anyone who has been around the block can see this is what is occurring. . Listen, I am all for for a city, but we would be better off to keep it smaller. Let Tucker have Pdale.

          • itp only

            Keith as a fellow ITP homeowner here is my problem with your group. The majority of us by a 2 to 1 ratio live ITP so why does it seem like all your group seems to be worried more about re those OTP? Quite frankly adding them to our city is nothing but a a drain on our taxes, police and our ITP identity. Your own two studies shows that. I bought a house ITP because I wanted to be part of a ITP community. Not one that goes outside 285. None of my neighbors who are even considering voting for a city are interested in having the OTP area in either. So why is 1/3 of the populations wishes out weighing the other 2/3? Did you even ask us (the majority) if we wanted to include them? I don’t remember anyone polling on what map we liked better. Mary Kay is not to keen to answer questions like this on your facebook page so maybe you can for us. I think you all might lose the war on this thing fighting for that 1/3 over what the rest of us want which is a ITP city only.

      • HB

        Mr. Hanks, can you please clarify why we have to have Pleasantdale in the mix? I can understand Evandale and Winding Woods areas that identify more as Northlake than Tucker, 4 miles away. But why are you drawing in Pleasantdale? Completely different area that we would have to support out of pocket. I’m ok with doing that with my Dekalb dollars, but why on earth would those of us intown want to set up yet another tax drain on ourselves?

        • Keith Hanks

          Hi HB, So I’m going to have to be really humble and own my past on what I’m about to say… I was wrong before. I was a bit of an “ITP snob” and a jerk on hard lines ITP vs OTP. I viewed it as I payed a premium to buy ITP and what I didn’t view is the reasons why others bought OTP. Travel these neighborhoods and you’ll see its more an extension of LaVista Hills with a few bridge underpasses along I-285 to access it. You were at the meeting yesterday, so you would have heard several supporters say “my car only turns right towards Northlake, never left towards Tucker.” The other distinction is this area is VERY knowledgeable about cityhood, and when presented with scenarios, this area leans very favorable towards LaVista Hills. They went through the similar process that folks in Medlock did. Medlock expressed a preference for City of Decatur annexation, or remain unincorporated as opposed to LaVista Hills. The overlapping neighborhoods in question have a different preference and that preference isn’t for Tucker, it isn’t for staying unincorporated, it is for LaVista Hills. I might be wrong, but I don’t think there was a single OTP person in the overlap that spoke yesterday and said they wanted no city, or a mortatorium on the process. You’ve got to think a little more long term, as the suburbs extend, there will be incremental value in the corner of I-85 and I-285 some day. I suspect a person coming to this area 10 years from now will be very impressed what the residents and businesses do to keep up the area and make it better.

          – Keith

          • HB

            I thank you for your thoughtful reply. To be clear, I wasn’t slighting the suburban areas. We just have different forecasts for the area, and time will tell which one of us will be right. You’re right, there’s a chance Pleasantdale will go on an upswing and become desirable. And I really hope it does, it’s a great location. Maybe that movie studio will change things. It’s just that realistically, in today’s money, our areas have different needs, and that area is going to require a lion’s share of the resources. Infrastructure, and right now there’s a lot of crime that needs to be straightened up. I’m not as sure we can afford to support that area right now outside of (primarily intown) property taxes. That’s not being a snob. That’s just frank talk.

          • itp only

            Keith with all do respect. You referenced asking to neighborhoods if they wanted to be included in Lavista Hills. Why is it no one asked us in Briarlake the same thing? Why do these two areas get the option to opt in or opt out but we don’t? Sure seems unfair that they got to chose but we were not given options if we wanted in or if we wanted them in.

      • SteveFromLaVistaHills

        Well said, Keith.

  • Mark Snyder

    The most telling moment of the hearing yesterday was when Allen Venet of LaVista Hills leadership could not locate Northlake Festival on the map. That group is fighting for an area they say they have claim to yet they obviously never travel outside the perimeter to it. Venet also said LaVista Hills needs Northlake to be financially viable. Forgive me but as a taxpayer I don’t believe you can offer every service on the LaVista Hills list with NO new taxes (as they’ve claimed) based on the hope that Northlake doesn’t close it’s doors. As Rep. Scott Holcomb pointed out, Northlake may not be there in 10 years. That means every homeowner in the LaVista Hills map will be left holding the bag to pay off debt and fund a city with no commercial base. If you live inside the perimeter this should make you quake in your boots. You’ll lose your schools (once Druid Hills annexes into Atlanta) and you’ll be paying higher taxes – for what? No thank you.

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