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Stonecrest Cityhood: Are You Viable?

A four-hour meeting took place Thursday between legislators and DeKalb's new "cities."

Two things were clear Thursday after a four-hour "DeKalb Day" meeting between the county legislative delegation and the groups proposing new cities.

  • Many in the delegation were pressing the three groups with conflicting maps - Lakeside, Briarcliff, and Tucker - to sit down, either with a mediator or without, to work out differences in their maps.
  • The delegation is working on scheduling a public hearing with the cityhood groups, delegation, groups, county commissioners and interim DeKalb CEO Lee May in the "next week or so" to have "citizen input" on the process. That hearing would presumably come after the Legislature is already at work next week.

While all sides committed to some kind of follow-up, it was not clear who would be leading the effort to get the sides together. "We will be interested in any negotiated agreement among the parties," delegation chairman Rep. Howard Mosby said at the meeting's end.

These two developments came the day after May met with representatives from the three groups. May held the meeting as he was unable to attend today's session because of a death in his family.

According to Lakeside and Briarcliff reps attending that meeting, May ultimately pushed for a one-year moratorium on new cities and an impact study commission. The results of that meeting were open to interpretation.

State Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver asked Lakeside City Alliance (LCA) Chairman Mary Kay Woodworth if it was true that Lakeside was strongest against the idea. Woodworth disagreed with that assessment, saying she was not in a position to agree to anything at the meeting without the approval of the LCA board.

LCA statements, including a recent op-ed piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, have said that any moves to delay on a new city were not acceptable and simply stalling the process. The City of Briarcliff Initiative (COBI) in the past has made similar statements.

During the session at the Paul D. Coverdell Building at the state Capitol, legislators invited COBI, LCA, Stonecrest City Alliance (SCA) and Tucker 2014 to give presentations and answer questions. The Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker presentations shed little new information that hasn't been shared in community meetings or on their websites.

However, the question-and answer period led to some interesting points or discussions. In the interest of article length, Patch will be following up with a closer look at some of these points and others. Some highlights:

Can your city remain economically viable without the Northlake Mall area? Presenters for all three cities said yes. However, Lakeside and Tucker both said the area should be in their cities because it is part of their "community of interest." Tucker's Frank Auman said most businesses in the area see themselves as part of Tucker and a "preponderance" of them come to Tucker Business Association meetings. COBI President Allen Venet was not conceding the area, but said "I wish Northlake was outside of 285." 

Annexation: State Rep. Karla Drenner asked Venet what she should tell officials in cities she represents as Briarcliff's borders give them an inability to grow. Venet, when asked, said COBI had not talked with those cities before drawing their map. However, he said that there was room for compromise. He said COBI had met with Decatur's mayor and city manager this week. "We are certainly in favor of annexation," he said, but not "cherry picking," in which cities only pursue commercial property and not residential areas. Venet repeatedly stressed that Briarcliff's boundaries were designed to be "inclusive," and give everyone the right to vote on cityhood.

Three new cities? LCA Co-Chairman Kevin Levitas said at one point, when asked, that there is enough territory for all three cities to be created. 

Convention bureaus? All three city proposals include provisions for their own convention bureaus, which is required in order to collect a hotel-motel tax.

Funding DeKalb police pensions? Several legislators raised the issue of new cities not contributing to the pension plans or health benefits of retired officers who protected their areas. COBI President Allen Venet said state law needs to be changed to prevent that from happening. Woodworth said LCA would not oppose the Legislature writing something into Lakeside's charter. Tucker's Auman said it was a moot point as Tucker would still be patrolled by DeKalb Police.

SCA President Jason Lary's presentation was much shorter than the others as Stonecrest's feasibility study found a $15 million shortfall in their original proposal for a city of 82,000. That proposal is being reworked for the 2015 Legislative session, working with UGA's Carl Vinson Institute of Government, with a smaller city of 48,000.

Lary made an impassioned plea for help on economic development in southeast DeKalb, which he said has been hit hard by declining home prices. "Quite frankly, I'm envious of the other three (cityhood groups). They have the opportunity to see if they are viable rather than 'Are you viable?' "

"We're not done. That would be giving up on DeKalb County. This is about holding our own in our own region," Lary said.

What do you think the cityhood groups should do? Tell us in the comments below.

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