Decatur’s annexation plans are a ‘clean slate’, officials say
Decatur’s old plans to expand the city’s size through annexation are being reconsidered. The map that sketched out those plans is “effectively dead,” the city manager says.
That was the major takeaway from a two-hour meeting of the Decatur School Board and Decatur City Commission held Tuesday night, June 7. Future annexation proposals could consider a range of possibilities, including an idea that was a nonstarter over a year ago: adding more residential property to the city and possibly annexing areas that include a school.
City leaders decided that annexation was not its top priority in the 2016 legislative session after the city tried unsuccessfully to move an annexation bill through the Legislature in 2015. The bill included part of Decatur’s previous annexation map, with the notable exception of Suburban Plaza.
In the months leading up to the 2017 session, the city’s leadership will be rethinking what that map will look like.
“I think it’s kind of a clean slate,” Mayor Patti Garrett said during the meeting.
City Manager Peggy Merriss agrees with that assessment.
“Conditions have changed,” Merriss said. “The 2015 plan was really done during 2014 based on conditions that existed … [that are] are going to be anywhere from three to four years old. DeKalb County has permitted a lot of apartments that weren’t there two years ago, much less four years ago. The conditions have changed. I think that has to be taken into account. Could the map end up looking a lot like [the old one] at the end of the day? Maybe, but I don’t think anyone should feel constrained to make a duplicate of that map. I think what we got tonight was some really good starting direction on, ‘Here’s the framework and the kind of conditions we would like to see as we build this map,’ and so that’s what we’ll try to do.”
School Board member Garrett Goebel at one point during the meeting said he’d like more information about the implications of annexing an area that already contains a school.
“There are some neighboring areas that were never on the map … that might contain a school,” Goebel said. “Is that anything the school board would be interested in?”
Goebel added, “That was pretty much off the table two or three years ago. It was a neighborhood that added a lot of residential even if it contained a school.”
Goebel didn’t specify which neighborhood he was talking about. The Medlock Park neighborhood just outside of Decatur does have a school, the International Community School. During the annexation discussions in late 2014, Medlock Park neighborhood representatives attempted to sell Decatur on the idea of bringing that school into the City Schools of Decatur. At the time of that discussion, Merriss reportedly said she believed, “The school belongs solely to DeKalb County and would not be available to the City of Decatur.”
It’s an open question about which school system would assume ownership of a school annexed from a neighboring system. In 2015, there was a proposal to annex Briar Vista and Fernbank Elementary Schools, as well as Druid Hills High, into the city of Atlanta. The previous DeKalb County Schools Superintendent, Michael Thurmond, signaled he’d be willing to fight that proposed annexation in court.
Decaturish asked Goebel if he supports exploring annexations of neighborhoods that include a school.
“I don’t think it’s the schools’ decision to direct the city’s choices on annexation,” Goebel said. “I think my comments were directed toward what’s the impact on the schools, and how does this work … in a way where we’re able to continue providing the same quality programming and services.”
He added that he isn’t suggesting that Decatur go after a school in another district, but he would like to understand clearly what annexing another district’s school would mean for CSD.
Former Decatur mayor Bill Floyd, who is currently Managing Director of the DeKalb Municipal Association, spoke during the meeting. He said that the association has asked cities interested in annexation to revisit their plans and collaborate on a joint proposal to make to the state Legislature for the 2017 session. He said the DeKalb County legislative delegation favors a “balanced approach” to annexation that includes taking in residential along with commercial.
“But if you’re trying to annex in what they consider a strictly commercial area and leave out a residential area, that’s where Stone Mountain ran into some problems last year, Clarkston ran into a few problems with situations like that,” Floyd said. “There are times when obviously you’re avoiding residential … it’s not as apparent in most cities as it is in Decatur because of the schools situation. If you’re in any other city than Decatur in DeKalb County, your school situation doesn’t change whether you’re in a city or not. … It’s a lot harder to argue against it, if it’s a balanced approach, [and] you’re taking some residential in exchange.”
Merriss said she would review the notes from the June 7 meeting and talk to CSD Superintendent David Dude about how to move forward on creating a new annexation plan for Decatur.