Emory University’s announcement that it would pursue annexation into Atlanta caught many by surprise, and it could inspire neighboring residents to ask to move into the city as well.
On Monday, Aug. 22, DeKalb County Commissioner Jeff Rader held a meeting about Emory’s annexation proposal at the Central DeKalb Senior Center, drawing a large crowd and several members of the news media. The university did not have a representative speak at the meeting.
There were many questions, including what impact this annexation would have on surrounding neighborhoods. Emory has deferred to individual neighborhoods on those decisions, though a map shows these neighborhoods may feel pressure to petition the city as well.
Emory has said its primary interest is having an Atlanta address. What it hasn’t said publicly, and what may be the more significant driver of this is effort, is what having an Atlanta address will do for the university. There’s a half-penny sales tax on the ballot this November to expand MARTA in Atlanta. One of the possible projects would be the Clifton Corridor light rail project, providing a transit pipeline to Emory’s campus.
Emory hasn’t submitted a petition yet, but people in the room said their connections at Emory communicated that the petition could be submitted by the end of the year.
Atlanta City Councilmember Alex Wan attended the meeting. He doesn’t know of Emory’s specific plans or timeline, but said getting the annexation done with by the end of the year would provide an advantage in terms of funding the light rail project. He said if the referendum passes in November, the city would negotiate a memorandum of understanding with MARTA in early 2017.
“Politically our focus should be on whatever is in the city of Atlanta limits,” Wan said, noting it would be hard to justify building the Clifton Corridor to voters if Emory were still in DeKalb County.
As far as a counter-offer from DeKalb County to keep Emory unincorporated, Rader said the county isn’t in a position to quickly act to counter whatever Atlanta may be offering, like approving its own sales tax referendum to pay for the corridor.
“To the extent that this appears to be immediate I don’t think the county was going to be able to act immediately,” Rader said.
Rader displayed a map that had Emory’s parcels shaded in yellow. Emory has said its annexation plans are only about Emory, but the map shows it could create pockets of unincorporated DeKalb County within Emory’s campus. Most notably, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is smack in the middle of Emory’s properties, as well as some residential properties, like Harwood Condominiums.
Marshall Orson, a member of the DeKalb County School Board, said despite Emory’s claims that its annexation won’t affect DeKalb County Schools, he said there are some taxable properties on Emory’s campus. Most of the university’s property is tax exempt, however.
“The larger issue here for us is that if Emory were successful in this effort, you’d be essentially cutting off two parts of Druid Hills from each other,” Orson said. “That is going to create an enormous amount of pressure on people to look about changing jurisdictions. As a school district, I think we’re quite vulnerable to this pressure.”
Rader said his primary concerns about annexation are the zoning jurisdiction for the property, which would be different than the neighborhoods surrounding Emory if the annexation is approved, and fire protection. The county fire department has a station that serves Emory University.
Emory is pursuing annexation via the petition method and will most likely use the 100 percent method, meaning it won’t require approval by voters. It’s still unknown if the university has enough contiguous property to the city of Atlanta to annex via this method, but the assumption is Emory would be able to annex if adjacent property owners were also willing to sign the petition. The main portion closest to the Atlanta city limits is along Briarcliff Road, according to a parcel map Rader provided.
In an earlier statement provided to Decaturish, Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed signaled the annexation plan could encompass more than Emory and include the CDC.
Many questions about Emory’s push to annex remain unanswered. It’s not clear who at the university is making this push. The university recently named a new president, but Emory’s potential annexation into Atlanta has been discussed for years. So too has the Clifton Corridor project, state Sen. Elena Parent noted.
“I was briefed by MARTA on the Clifton line last week what I can’t figure out is all of this is still years away,” Parent said. “There’s no decision what is going to happen. There’s no decision on a total funding mechanism.”
The “why now?” questions will have to wait. Emory appears to be moving quickly. Rader said the purpose of his meeting was to get a sense of how the community feels about annexation so the county can decide how it will respond.
“Our ability to challenge annexation is narrowly constrained and that is a topic for another day,” Rader said. “What we’re most interested in is your information and your input on what the county might do in order to preserve your interest.”