By Collin Kelley
Around 200 residents of the proposed City of Briarcliff came out for an update and informational meeting tonight, Sept. 12, at Clairmont Hills Baptist Church. Questions taken after the update from Allen Venet, president of the City of Briarcliff Initiative, showed there are concerns about taxes, schools, services and some who want to opt completely out of the cityhood plan.
Venet said that the Briarcliff plan had met its first goal of raising enough money – $30,000 – to have a feasibility study completed by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. The study is required by the state before the legislature will even take up the issue of cityhood.
The City of Briarcliff would have an estimated population of nearly 94,000 people. The cone-shaped city would begin where I-85 and I-285 meet and use those expressways as its northwest and eastside boundaries, respectively. The west boundary runs in a zig-zag along Moreland Avenue before dipping down to include the Fernbank area before skimming across the top of the cities of Decatur and Avondale Estates on the southside.
Some of the familiar landmarks that would be included in the new city are Callanwolde Fine Arts Center, Toco Hills Shopping Center, Emory University/CDC campus, Druid Hills High School, DeKalb Farmers Market, North DeKalb Mall, Lakeside High School, Northlake Mall and the Mercer University campus.
Of course, Briarcliff isn’t the only horse in this race. The City of Lakeside would encompass many of the same areas as the Briarcliff proposal, but would extend out to include Tucker and have roughly 62,000 residents. Tucker is also exploring its own cityhood plan. Venet believes Briarcliff’s proposal is superior.
“We’ve looked at the maps, especially Lakeside, and decided there had to be a better way,” Venet said. “Creating a city would not be a panacea for all the issues facing this part of DeKalb County, but it would be a step in the right direction.”
One thing that all the cityhood movements have in common is a desire to wrest control from DeKalb County, which the organizations have accused of being unresponsive and inconsiderate of their communities’ needs. Venet said the City of Briarcliff would create its own police force, planning and zoning department, parks and recreation department and “pothole department” for road maintenance. Fire, water, sewer, trash collection and schools would all remain under DeKalb County.
As for the increase in taxes, Venet said he didn’t believe there would be an increase. “We’re basically unbundling some services from DeKalb County, so the tax dollars that would go to them would come to the city instead.”
A number of residents from Druid Hills were upset that their neighborhood was part of the proposed city. Druid Hills resident David Armstrong said the community civic association donated $10,000 to the Briarcliff initiative without asking all the residents.
“There’s a significant part of Druid Hills that doesn’t want any part of this,” Armstrong said.
A member of the Druid Hills Civic Association stood up and responded to Armstrong, stating that that the association’s contribution was “not an endorsement of Briarcliff, but a way to preserve our ability to vote for a city if the legislature gives us chance.”
Venet said the state legislature would be the deciding factor on any of the cityhood movements. He noted that Briarcliff would be represented by three different state senators and seven different state representatives. “Out of those 10, nine of them are Democrats and one is a Republican,” Venet said. “That Republican is Sen. Fran Millar and he is a vocal supporter of Lakeside.”
Millar told our sister publication, Dunwoody Reporter, in May that the only cityhood proposal that would “go anywhere” was Lakeside. If the legislature signs off on any plan, voters in the proposed city would still have to vote on whether to incorporate.
In the meantime, Venet said more donations and volunteers were needed to make the Briarcliff initiative happen. Additional meetings and events will be announced at briarcliffga.org. A full-sized version of the Briarcliff map can be seen at this link.