Chamblee officials say they are prepared to annex a large tract of land south of the city – as long as voters and a judge rule in their favor, that is.
On Nov. 5, for a second time in two years, voters in the Dresden East area will have the chance to choose whether or not they would like to become part of the city of Chamblee. If approved, the annexation would increase the size of Chamblee by about 11,000 residents.
Meanwhile, Brookhaven City Council voted Oct. 8 to annex the Century Center office park, a large commercial property which is also part of the area on the Nov. 5 Chamblee annexation referendum. Chamblee city officials say they are prepared for the potential growth – just as they were last year before the annexation referendum failed by a slim margin. State legislators agreed to put the annexation referendum back up for a vote this year due to issues with the ballots in 2012.
“A lot of the planning for this particular annexation was done last year in preparation for that vote,” said Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson.
Acting Chamblee City Manager and Police Chief Marc Johnson said the city is interviewing for 28 additional employees in the police department: 23 sworn officers and five civilian employees.
“We’ve been recruiting police officers for several months now,” Johnson said.
Johnson said Chamblee would need to spend about $1.1 million for capital expenses in 2014, including cars, computers and equipment for the new officers. “The total for recurring cost for first five years would be between $2.4 and $2.5 million,” Johnson said.
Johnson said those numbers would need to change if Century Center does not become a part of Chamblee.
“It would lower some of the need for police response in that area, but it would also be a drastic reduction in the revenue, no one knows how much for sure. We’re just airing on the side of caution,” Johnson said. “We would be cautious about filling all those positions prior to the courts deciding.”
On July 1, Highwoods Properties, the owners of Century Center applied to be annexed into the city of Brookhaven.
Because Century Center was already included in the Chamblee annexation referendum, Chamblee officials filed an injunction to stop the Brookhaven annexation vote and on Aug. 16, DeKalb Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie blocked Brookhaven from annexing the property until after an Oct. 24 hearing.
On Sept. 17, Brookhaven filed an emergency motion asking the Supreme Court to lift the injunction imposed by the DeKalb judge.
In the motion, Brookhaven claimed the DeKalb judge overstepped her authority because, “The Superior Court enjoined a state legislative function, which is entirely inappropriate and outside the jurisdiction of the Superior Court.”
In its response, the Georgia Supreme Court sided with Brookhaven, stating “that the injunction prohibits a vote by the City Council of Brookhaven on the annexation of Century Center or otherwise interferes with acts of a legislative character.”
The high court ruled Oct. 3 that Brookhaven had the right to vote to annex the Century Center office complex. However, the court’s ruling only applied to the city’s ability to vote, leaving the dispute over the annexation open.
“This order only stays interference with the legislative process. To the extent, if any, that the interlocutory injunction entered by the Superior Court is directed toward executive or other non-legislative acts in furtherance of annexation, the interlocutory injunction remains in full force and effect,” the Supreme Court ruling states.
Johnson, Chamblee’s acting city manager, said he’s “not really surprised” by the ruling, which he described as a technicality. He said regardless of the results of the annexation referendum or the judge’s decision, the two cities likely will go back to court.
“It’s pretty much destined to be decided in Supreme Court,” Johnson said.
In a statement, Brookhaven City Manager Marie Garrett said, “the city policy is not to comment on pending litigation. We do not wish to comment on this case.”
Jordan Fox, president of the Dresden East Civic Association, said with no other items on the ballot for the area this year, the challenge will be making sure people get out and cast their vote on the annexation referendum. “The main thing that DECA has tried to do is make sure people are informed, make sure people know there’s an election,” Fox said.
Citizens For Chamblee is the main group that has been advocating for the annexation. But Fox said DECA is “certainly not shy about saying we support everything the Citizens for Chamblee group is doing.”
Fox said this year, there’s more of a sense of urgency surrounding the annexation referendum. He said the possibility of Century Center joining Brookhaven would leave DECA with few other options.
“If we don’t annex into Chamblee, we could really be left without a tax base surrounded by other cities,” Fox said. “It could really have a negative impact on this area.”
He said he’s also worried that the conflict over Century Center between Chamblee and Brookhaven will confuse voters.
“In some aspects, it’s created confusion among some voters, which we’re trying to clarify. It makes them think we could be annexed into Brookhaven, which is highly unlikely,” Fox said.
Fox said DECA has also battled fliers and “robocalls” telling residents to vote against the annexation. He said the anti-annexation materials are coming from groups using names similar to the civic associations, such as The DeKalb Annexation Education Coalition (DAEC) and DeKalb Concerned Citizens (DCC).
“We wanted to people to know they’re not coming from us because they’re using a name similar to ours,” Fox said.
Clarkson, the mayor of Chamblee, said he thinks the annexation would be a good thing for his city.
“I think it’s great that people have opportunity to choose a form of government that is more local and I believe more responsive,” Clarkson said. “I think it would help us to make a stronger community overall if the folks on our southern border were also Chamblee constituents.”
In 2010, Chamblee annexed an area to the north known as the Huntley Hills/Gainesboro area. Clarkson said that area was smaller than this proposed annexation, but it was proportionally similar for the city at the time.
“The previous annexation … has strengthened our community,” Clarkson said. “You get a sense of community from living in a city.”