The Century Center office complex is caught in a familiar tug of war between two nearby cities.
The owners of the complex applied in late June to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven. But the property is also part of a Chamblee annexation referendum scheduled to be on the ballot this November.
Relations between the leaders of the two cities are strained. Both claim the right to annex the commercial property, which would provide an infusion of tax revenue to either city. Brookhaven officials estimate the annual tax revenue would be about $335,000.
The city of Chamblee won a temporary restraining order preventing Brookhaven City Council from taking any action to annex the property until a court hearing Aug. 14.
The current discord between the two cities has been incubating since before Brookhaven incorporated in 2012.
Century Center, located just off of I-85 at Clairmont Road in unincorporated DeKalb County, was drawn into early maps of Brookhaven when residents were seeking approval for the new city in the state Legislature.
Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis was involved in the early cityhood efforts. He said Century Center, along with the Plaza Fiesta shopping center and a parcel of land in the Peachtree DeKalb Airport, were drawn out of Brookhaven’s boundaries by legislators responding to requests from Chamblee officials and residents of nearby neighborhoods.
“They let it be known that was something they wanted to preserve for future annexation efforts,” Davis said. “That wasn’t necessarily in the city of Brookhaven’s best interest. It was in the city of Chamblee’s best interest.”
Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson said Chamblee’s annexation effort was driven “100 percent” by residents of the Dresden East Civic Association.
The approximately 11,000 residents in the unincorporated DeKalb neighborhoods sought to be included into the city of Chamblee, and claimed that tax revenue from Century Center would provide Chamblee with the funds needed to serve the new population. An annexation referendum was approved by the Legislature and went up for a vote in November 2012, but failed by a slim margin.
Clarkson said due to the referendum failing by “a slim enough margin and enough voter irregularities,” legislators agreed to give voters another chance to vote on annexation in the 2013 election.
Clarkson said it was after the referendum was already approved by the Legislature and signed by the governor that he heard Century Center was interested in joining Brookhaven.
“I, nor anyone in Chamblee, had any idea they were considering annexing Century Center into Brookhaven,” Clarkson said.
But Davis said Brookhaven was contacted by Highwoods Properties, one of the owners of Century Center, about the possibility of annexation before Chamblee’s referendum was approved. He said it would have been unreasonable to expect Brookhaven to inform Chamblee about an annexation before it was a reality.
“As an attorney, and a person in business, if something isn’t official and there’s not ink to paper, you don’t make announcements or take action until someone actually commits,” Davis said, adding, “no one from Chamblee contacted Brookhaven when they worked to get a second annexation referendum on our border.”
Clarkson said despite frequent communication between the neighboring cities over the past several months, Century Center never came up.
“I would say there was plenty of communication between Highwoods and Chamblee and Brookhaven, just not about Century Center going into Brookhaven,” Clarkson said.
Jim Bacchetta, vice president of Highwoods Properties Atlanta Division, said his company is interested in being annexed into Brookhaven for several reasons. First is that Century Center is adjacent to the city’s borders.
“We’re actually physically closer to Brookhaven right now than we are to Chamblee,” Bacchetta said.
He also believes Century Center is better aligned with Brookhaven.
“Their vision is really the same vision for what we want to do at Century Center. The mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly plan we have is exactly what Brookhaven is interested in,” Bacchetta said.
Bacchetta said the disadvantage of being a commercial property owner is not having a vote on things like Chamblee’s annexation referendum.
“The only way we can affect our future is by asking for this [Brookhaven] annexation,” Bacchetta said. “There’s no way to predict the results of the upcoming referendum vote.”
But Bacchetta said the main thing Highwoods is looking for is a smaller, more responsive governing body.
“I think we’d be happy to be a part of Chamblee. But we’d be happier to be a part of Brookhaven,” he said.