DeKalb County Schools has filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta for annexing residences adjacent to property owned by Emory University.
The annexation petition was signed by residents living in the University Drive and Spring Valley Lane area. The annexation, approved by the city last year, took in more than 100 residents on 16.31 acres, according to the lawsuit and a service plan found on the city of Atlanta website. The annexation also includes the Congregation Shearith Israel synagogue. Emory University owns the property next to residences on University Drive, DeKalb County tax records show.
Last year, Emory University announced it was seeking annexation into the city of Atlanta via the petition method, which does not require approval by voters. It was expected the annexation petition would be filed as early as December 2016, but so far no petition has materialized. County leaders have publicly voiced concerns that Emory’s annexation push could prompt other neighborhoods to petition the city.
The lawsuit filed by DeKalb County against the University Drive annexation does not mention or reference Emory’s plans to file an annexation petition. Darin Engle, who dropped off the University Drive petition to the city, said the neighborhood was pursuing annexation long before Emory announced its intentions to officially petition the city to annex its campus.
“The lawsuit seems to imply a hostile takeover where that cleary wasn’t the case,” Engle said. “We had support from well over 70 percent of the registered voters, which is significant. We needed only to meet a 60 percent threshold.”
Engle said that no one at Emory University was involved with the neighborhood’s annexation efforts.
“They were not, absolutely not, nor do we have anybody in the annexation area that works for Emory,” he said.
He did say the university was aware the neighborhood was pursuing annexation, but there were no official communications from Emory and the university didn’t send any representatives to the neighborhood’s meetings regarding annexation.
In November, the Atlanta City Council approved the neighborhood’s annexation using the 60 percent petition method. The 60 percent method requires signatures of 60 percent of property owners and 60 percent of registered voters.
On Dec. 29 DeKalb County Schools filed a lawsuit against the city of Atlanta in Fulton County. The lawsuit alleges the annexation violates the law because its westernmost boundary is the same as the DeKalb and Fulton county border. The lawsuit says the law regarding the 60 percent method forbids cities from crossing a county boundary to complete an annexation. The lawsuit contends Atlanta did not provide adequate notice to DeKalb County Schools, its students, or its parents and asks a court to the declare the annexation illegal and to grant a permanent injunction prohibiting Atlanta from annexing the area.
DeKalb County Schools did not respond to several messages seeking comment. The city of Atlanta indicated it intends to fight the lawsuit.
“At the homeowners request, the City of Atlanta approved the annexation of homeowners along University Drive and Spring Valley Lane after a public hearing and finding the annexation to be in the best interest of property owners in the annexation area and the citizens of Atlanta,” the city of Atlanta said via email. “The City will defend this annexation against the challenge of the DeKalb County School District, which seeks to overrule the more than 70 percent of homeowners and voters that petitioned the City for annexation. The City welcomes these new residents and looks forward to providing them the same high quality services it provides all residents.”
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 Michael 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.