DeKalb County is trying to negotiate with the city of Atlanta over a petition to annex Emory University into the city limits.
But it may not have any way to bring the city to the negotiating table.
County CEO Michael Thurmond on July 10 sent a letter to the city of Atlanta saying the county has ownership of infrastructure in the area around Emory University that could soon be annexed into the city.
In addition to the university, the 744.7 acre annexation proposal also includes petitions from Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Georgia Power, Villa International, Synod of South Atlantic & Presbyterian Church (USA) Inc. and the Centers for Disease Control. There will be several public hearings and a full council vote is expected on Sept. 5.
The county has asked the city for a seat at the table to negotiate the annexation, but the city hasn’t been receptive Commissioner Jeff Rader says.
Rader has been a critic of the proposed annexation. When it was announced, he said the plan is likely to entice other areas to petition the city for annexation.
“Atlanta is less likely withhold rezoning,” Rader said in June. “A good example of that is the University Inn, which is on North Decatur Road and has been the subject of several proposals to put students there. If they were to see Emory annexed, why would they not try to annex to get the maximum density on the site?”
Rader gave residents living in and around the area an update on July 13. The meeting was held at the Central DeKalb Senior Center. Rader passed around copies of the letter Thurmond mailed to the city listing pieces of infrastructure owned by the county.
Thurmond wrote that the county is reserving all existing water and sewer easements. But apart from the easements, what leverage does the county actually have in this situation?
“Obviously the only thing that is clear is the city I think will want to use our fire station,” Rader said, referring to Fire Station No. 1 on Clifton Road. “So that’s one thing that is of some interest. We also have those other utilities that we had identified and we may have some property rights to those that would likewise be negotiable. From an approval point of view, we don’t have any official role in the process.”
He said the county is considering its legal options to challenge the annexation.
Commissioner Kathie Gannon said the county is not considering a lawsuit to stop the annexation, however. She is hopeful that the city will talk to the county about the details of the proposal.
“We know they want to do it,” Gannnon said. ” … How do you protect the community you grow up with? You know, you came to the dance with the neighborhood. They grow up together and then you say, ‘Well you want this now, so goodbye neighborhood.’ And you don’t have any control over the impact for the rest of your life. It’s just not right, and we want to negotiate it out so the neighborhoods have some protection.”
The county schools are in an even worse position School Board member Marshall Orson said. During the meeting, he said the county school system had lost its lawsuit against the city over annexing homes near Emory University. A judge ruled the city had sovereign immunity from such a suit, he said.
In its letter to the county about the Emory annexation, the city of Atlanta made a point of saying that, “The city does not intend to expand the boundaries of the Atlanta Independent School System in connection to this annexation.”
But that remains a possibility if adjacent residents file annexation petitions. The county school system has appealed the judge’s ruling about its lawsuit, but Orson was not optimistic about its chances. He said if the lawsuit is ultimately successful, it would give the county schools a plan for dealing with annexation’s effect on the county school system.
“We need the schools issue to be separate from municipal government issues,” he said.
This is not the first time DeKalb County Schools has used the threat of litigation to fight annexation of county property by the city. Back when Thurmond was Superintendent of the DeKalb County school system, he signaled that he would fight a potential annexation of the Druid Hills neighborhood into the city, and proposed allocating millions to cover the costs of the litigation.
Here are the letters and documents Rader distributed at the July 13 meeting.