Cityhood on tap for the BriarPatch? Take your time, please

The author attended a meeting held by the 501c-3 Stand Up DeKalb this week, which dealt with the possible formation of a city... somewhere around here.

I attended a meeting held by the 501c-3 Stand Up DeKalb this week, which dealt with the possible formation of a city somewhere “West of I-85” and “East of US 29” and “North of North Decatur Road” and …  An “area of eligibility” (my term) of about 30 square miles. Fear not, this is not a boundary that’s ever likely to be the subject of state legislation. What in God’s name would you call it? It might be easier to name it for what it isn’t—“Anywhere but”, which even sounds exclusionary, which coincidentally is something for which the whole cityhood movement has been criticized.

In fact, I’ve been told that if the Oak Grove/Druids are involved, any name is in play except “Northlake” (boo-hoo for me) because it invokes the wreckage of a mall and a bygone era. Maybe there will even be two or three “cities” (rather, call it “collective local representation” so as not to leave out some other form of jurisdictional).  Certainly Tucker will do something on its own now that the January-from-Hell PR problem has landed on DeKalb—the little village really is the one perfect historical town left in DeKalb. Did you see how Tuckerites came together when landmark Handy Ace Hardware burned down?  Contrast that with the reaction one could expect if Northlake Mall went up in flames.

One of the attendees at the Stand Up meeting suggested that “we” start “our city” small and intimate so as to annex areas later. Everybody knows what that means—Oak Grove. Just makes me feel good all over—how about you? Now there’s a representative community if I’ve ever seen one. Not an apartment complex in sight and very few rental homes to boot. Just wait ‘till the demographics are tabulated. You think Dunwoody has a hard time explaining it ain’t white?

Well—there may be some pretty powerful dissenting voices betting that their area will beat the “Grovians” to the punch. I sat at the Stand Up meeting with a guy from the Evansdale school zone and he pointed out that his house isn’t on the Stand Up map. He’s kinda big in Republican circles. He’s willing to bet he can get his legislative buddies from Dunwoody (those pesky provocateurs) to try his area before more Democrat Briarcliff—if you have to go small early on.

One can certainly see an area centered on Northlake Mall—and tight enough to exclude the people that hold their nose at it. The Northlake idea has the added benefit of incorporating Industrial property, a hospital and some railroad tracks (can you say commuter rail station)—no high school though, but that’s not a problem because we can now produce a charter school in a matter of days (again, thanks mostly to those same provocateurs.  You can make a case that a 2-mile radius around Northlake Mall would be the most “complete” of the new cities  on an economic asset basis (things that many new cities are very short on), even if only 10,000 people.  Since the new city movement is all about breaking all of the rules about what constitutes a city, why not one where the commercial/industrial revenue is twice that greater of the residential. Wait a darn minute! That is a traditional rule for a city!

People, there’s a reason this area has leadership “issues”. In the final analysis, we are not one area. We aren’t even three areas. We’re a bunch of fat and happy neighborhoods that has NEVER had a reason to organize together….and this is too damn big and risky an issue to start doing it. Sandy Springs had thirty (40?) years of Leadership This and Civic Roundtable That and a central core LCI and State Reps that had been fighting the legislative battle forever. People knew the terms of engagement. Dunwoody has a civic association that is respected by not only this county, but maybe the whole world. Dunwoody has historic society, Dunwoody has a center, Dunwoody is a darn PLACE for Pete’s sake. You think the Perimeter CID didn’t have discussions behind the scenes downtown with how many headquartered Fortune 500 companies?

The most visible power we have in “this” area (whatever that is) resides EVERYWHERE and they ain’t gonna help with no city. It’s the Federal government. What they will do is help with a Druid Hills Road/Buford Highway/I-85 Corridor CID. The Feds will engage to enhance their living space between PDK Airport and Emory University and all points between.

Start there with some special districts and maybe show some innovative leadership which forces the county government to respond to your needs. 

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Sally January 25, 2013 at 01:06 PM
I understand that this area doesn't have leadership and that's a big problem. On the other hand, Dekalb County leadership is a mess that we need to separate ourselves from if we want to maintain any kind of property values. You mention how the community would react if Northlake Mall burned vs. how Tucker reacted when the Ace Hardware burned. The difference there is that the Ace Hardware management was part of the community. They worked to improve the community. Something the ownership of Northlake Mall hasn't done in a long time. These are the same owners of Lenox Mall and Phipps Plaza. It's easy to see why they don't want anything happening at Northlake. They don't want competition for their favorite children. And then there is Northlake Festival. Obviously there are things going on in this area. Those managing these two properties aren't interested in being part of the neighborhood in a good way. Something has to happen here. It's fine to take measured steps but not if it's going to mean another decade of Dekalb County governance of this area.
Tom Doolittle January 25, 2013 at 03:32 PM
I'm writing another piece about less risky (and cynical) alternatives. Ex: Dunwoody benefitted mightily as an unincorporated area from PCID (even if indirectly). BTW--I can't think of everything when blogging--a couple of things I didn't mention: (1)Kevin Levitas and Don Brussard should be thanked for their efforts thus far. Those efforts will go a long toward bringing a community (or several) together and putting those places on the map. Jurisdictions will be drawn regardless of the form they take. I'm assuming Kevin and Don will be just as happy under any of those terms. (Ex: If I had been more persistent (and creative and diplomatic and...) 12 years ago in the development stages of Northlake Community Alliance, we'd already have the community infrastructure to have a "bottom up" cityhood effort--and probably a bunch of institutions to lend it credibility--such as CIDs--then again the other side of the coin is the county would have pumped millions of dollars into the area already and been a full partner. (2) One thing that Dunwoody also has that "we" (again, what place?) don't is a hard copy news organ (Crier) that serves many uses. One big one is as monopoly news it is able to be a civic booster--it was MIGHTY MIGHTY is selling the new city to people. It's possible that on-line organs (like Patch) can serve that capacity, but readership is distributed among other on-line products and no group has enough years in place.
Dawn Forman January 26, 2013 at 01:50 AM
I like the idea of having a city, but no boundaries have been designated. Will my home be in the new "city" boundaries? No one knows, so it's difficult to get excited about anything. There are many people who would love to see a change, but more information and definite boundaries would be needed to get excited. Also contacting neighborhood associations and neighborhood watch groups and getting them involved would help get citizens excited and on board. People in this area want a change, but more specifics are needed to get people mobilized and on board.
John McQuiston January 26, 2013 at 12:50 PM
I would be interested in what they think will happen with the schools. I'm pretty sure there will be some resistance from the Decatur side.
H.A. Hurley January 26, 2013 at 01:41 PM
The areas you are writing about have been hit with such a rash of forced entries, car break-ins, vandalism and assaults almost daily. Check on www.crimemapping.com and sign up to receive an update every day. You will be shocked. Along with the school system killing our education system, crime and the DC government, it is becoming more difficult to think about staying. Right now, crime and schools are hurting us to such a degree that it is hard to focus on anything else. I have loved being close to town, but cops and BOE/Superintendents are not invested in keeping our county vital. Very frustrating!
Sally January 26, 2013 at 01:43 PM
Not sure why Decatur would be concerned. They already have a separate school system. Nothing would change with them.
Crash January 26, 2013 at 02:08 PM
Clever article, it's great to see such motivation to improve, it's great to see the Charter Schools offer choices to the people who really care about educating their children and improving the resale value of their homes. Perhaps some day soon the value of the Charter Schools will matter more to Realtors than the County schools.
Tom Doolittle January 26, 2013 at 07:41 PM
I'm please readers see something here of value. Keep those opinions coming. I also should have explained what StandUp DeKalb is. Maybe Don Broussard can provide a brief here. My take on it is as a 501c-3 with a few years of holding the county's zoning people's feet to the fire (following its own rules). If not, I'll get something into my next piece regarding "lower risk" community organizing alternatives and step-by-step approaches.
Mark January 27, 2013 at 03:53 PM
Were there maps discussed? Where are those maps? How do I hear about future meetings? Does Stand Up Dekalb have a web presence (group, site, etc.)? Thanks
Tom Doolittle January 27, 2013 at 05:03 PM
One map was presented-- I don't think it really means anything--best described as an area that made up the Briarcliff, Shamrock, Lakeside and Henderson High School zones. If used as a city boundary, it would be the largest city area in Georgia and would violate any cost-efficient notion of density--little better than a small suburban county. Questions about StandUp should be directed to Don Broussard. BTW--therea are news articles that refer to a fledgling "Briarcliff Woods East Neighborhood Association" which has held two open meetings. http://www.facebook.com/BriarcliffWoodsEastNeighborhoodAssociation
Tom Doolittle January 27, 2013 at 05:26 PM
Credible public process will not be likely here. Even small civic groups have traditionally had difficulty engaging a large percentage of residents--anywhere on the order of Dunwoody's. The closest I've seen would be Leafmore Creek. A public process would have to matrix school PTA's, churches, swim/tennis clubs--and have some coordinated feed into a news organ. There aren't even any business associations to defer to. My guess is that a group of self-appointed committee members like Brookhaven had will get together with not a question in mind, but the goal of working with Republican legislators to write what is known as "enabling legislation".
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 28, 2013 at 11:22 AM
Check CAN web site'
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 28, 2013 at 11:24 AM
Check CAN web site.
Sally January 28, 2013 at 12:47 PM
This area has plenty of "self appointed" committees. North Briarcliff Civic Association being one. Anyone coming with thoughts that aren't in line with theirs are quickly shut down. They are holding a meeting to discuss cityhood soon. In their announcement they stress that this meeting is for information finding, not a debate. Code for, we will tell you what we want you to hear and anyone who challenges that will not be allowed to speak. And they wonder why few pay their dues.
Tom Doolittle January 28, 2013 at 01:53 PM
Sally--pls provide a link to the NBCA announcement here. In Beth Nathan's remarks at the StandUp meeting, she suggested polling residents on their specific interests in city services--and inversely, how the county isn't satisfactory. If indeed NBCA used the term "no debate", it might not mean "no discussion", only that the meeting isn't a "for city" or "against city" discussion.
Tom Doolittle January 28, 2013 at 02:06 PM
C.A.N. website is really a blog--and won't be found with a search on CAN DeKalb, CAN Civic Association or C.A.N. However, here it is after some work-- http://www.can-dk.org/home Kinda gives you an idea how far we need to go on the city-hood subject.
Tom Doolittle January 28, 2013 at 04:25 PM
CAN presents very detailed notes from the Kevin Levitas Briarcliff Woods East (BWENA) legislative "pro-con" meeting earlier this month--BWENA names the local effort "City of North DeKalb". CAN has references to "a city in Central DeKalb". http://www.can-dk.org/file-cabinet/government-municipal (scroll down to "Just Thinking" category). A map is there also identifying a popualtion of 130,000--and even proposes council districts.
Tom Doolittle January 28, 2013 at 04:25 PM
City Meeting News--North Briarcliff (NBCA) newsletter. It says the CAN website has information about the city-hood status and explains the format of its February 19 (7:00) meeting planned at Shallowford Pres Church.
Mark January 28, 2013 at 06:52 PM
Thanks for the CAN link. Those districts have some strange Gerrymandering.
Sally January 29, 2013 at 12:03 AM
I'm simply basing my thoughts and comments on past experience. Especially where Beth Nathan is involved. It's her way or no way. I believe the information I read was in the newsletter that came out a few days ago. It specifically said "no debate". I know how she works. She wants to control the information so that it only goes the way she wants it to go. As far as I can tell, she controls NBCA.
Dawn Forman January 29, 2013 at 02:58 PM
I agree H.A. Hurley, This area is being BSed by the police. Our area was told in the fall of 2011 that we were Greenacres and had nothing to complain about compared to other areas of the county. They don't seem to understand that we don't want to be like the crime ridden parts of DeKalb. As the head of our Neighborhood Watch, we can't even learn how homes are being broken into, so that we can help each other better secure our homes and inform people on what to look for. Rarely are their cars in our neighborhoods, and we pay much higher taxes than the parts of DeKalb that the police like to compare us to. I remember when we first moved in and there were police officers on bikes who got to know us as a community, now nothing. We too are seriously thinking of leaving and realize that if we chose to stay that our property values will continue to fall.
Tom Doolittle January 29, 2013 at 04:37 PM
Lesson: http://www.ajc.com/news/news/johns-creek-and-milton-seek-legislative-action-tha/nT7FJ/ This is not only a potential tax increase--its points to two of many reasons that new cities are vulnerable that are relevent to our area: (1) New cities will have municipal infrastructure needs that are simply new facilities that require bond borrowing--these are currently not in UGa's tax projections or what I consider worse--UGa makes absolutley no RISK projections (2) This articles example--crumbling roads. Areas with density are efficiently maintained--in fact, they have "streets"--when you see "road", thats a red flag that you don't want to own it--low density, not efficient. In such cases, the outer reaches of Dunwoody are more expensive to maintain than say, downtown Atlanta on a per taxpayer served.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 29, 2013 at 08:48 PM
Tom: County still takes care of Roads&Drainage, Water&Sewer,Sidewalks,Fire,Storm water. City Hall & Police Station are leased. Most other infrastructure & capital needs(except police cars) are out sourced or leased. Parks & other capital improvements get 5-10 million a year in host money. CID's (proposed University Triangle CID & North Druid Hills CID) can finance infrastructure needs in C-1,C-2,M-1,M-2. Our parents called this "pay as you go"...we must have forgotten. Take a look at the "Second" map on the CAN blog titled "Prospective Tax Digest" for the 10 billion tax digest necessary to finance services to" low density "(us) areas. This is like shipping...it's easy!
Tom Doolittle January 29, 2013 at 10:37 PM
Hi Rhea--I provided a link that described the problem that new North Fulton cities are having with paying as they go on roads. It's hard to believe that cites will have no other capital needs (see Atlanta) and not have budgets for bond payback. Lets take a medium density city like Roswell (which probably has annexed more land than it will able to afford as the economy continues to contract) and see whether it has bond service in its budget. The key is that I suggest we look at a worst case scenario. You think we've had economic contration yet--you ain't seen nuthin' yet. Also--cities are about to start their own school systems--capital needs. Also--ever hear of mission creep? All governments have it. All.
Rhea A Johnson Jr January 30, 2013 at 01:53 AM
TOM: Please run all the numbers before making your next post....as I have. Don't try to compare apples with oranges...North Fulton does NOT have favorable host distribution as we have. Call Joel G in County Finance to verify this . We pay for our roads thru our county taxes not city taxes, we only need to accept city services for Public Safety, Planning & Zoning & Code Enforcement and Parks and Rec at this time plus cast a wide net on city boundaries based initially on precincts as noted on current maps; fullsize versions with much detail are out and about for your edification. Yes DeKalb County's tax base is projected to decline 3-6% this year, but County property tax millage rates are forecast to increase into the future to offset declining Capital revenue. No need for worst case scenario....we are a fat and happy, wealthy part of the county as you noted earlier.......just need to get our act together ! Schools are NOT a problem if we create a viable Charter School System within our new City. Other cities in Fulton float bonds (yes some debt ....but what better investment for all of us even though only one in four families has children in school in DeKalb) to finance Charter schools. I was part of "mission creep" during the Vietnam war buildup, and the 800,000 civilian employees in the Pentagon are part of " mission creep", but we can handle this much smaller problem.
Tom Doolittle February 07, 2013 at 04:09 AM
Movement--evinces moving target--more the merrier. I like the press these folks got. http://lakesidecityalliance.org/


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