Residents of the Dresden East neighborhoods voted decisively to join Chamblee on Nov. 5. But now it’s unclear whether a commercial property called Century Center will join those residents in Chamblee or become part of neighboring Brookhaven.
Brookhaven and Chamblee are battling for the right to annex the 100-acre office park, which would add a significant boost the tax base of either city.
Following an application for annexation from the Highwoods Properties, the owners of Century Center, Brookhaven City Council voted Oct. 8 to annex the property. But it was already included in the General Assembly’s local act establishing the Chamblee annexation referendum.
The two cities went to court, and DeKalb County Superior Court Judge Tangela Barrie ruled that Brookhaven could only annex the property if the Chamblee referendum failed.
But the referendum passed. The dispute now heads to the Georgia Supreme Court. Brookhaven has appealed the judge’s ruling and asked the high court for an expedited hearing.
“Brookhaven has an argument and Chamblee has an argument and I think it’s a legal interpretation decision that the Supreme Court will have to render,” said Jim Bacchetta, vice president of Highwoods Properties Atlanta Division.
Bacchetta said Highwoods hopes the Supreme Court will make a decision in Brookhaven’s favor.
“Folks who voted certainly deserve the right to vote and determine their future and whether or not they want to be in Chamblee. As you know, we’re a corporate citizen, so we had no vote [Nov. 5]. But we cast our vote when we applied for annexation into Brookhaven and that’s what we wanted, obviously,” Bacchetta said.
Despite the legal fight over Century Center, Brookhaven Mayor J. Max Davis said the Chamblee annexation will be a benefit for the region.
“We congratulate the newly incorporated citizens in the annexation area. It’s great for Chamblee and it’s great for Brookhaven and we congratulate them on their annexation,” Davis said. “I think their service needs will be met better than they have in the past and I find it helpful that we’ll have an area to our east that’s incorporated as a city.”
Just before Election Day, Davis announced that Brookhaven would welcome any residents who wanted to petition to join the city.
“Brookhaven has an interest in making sure that northeast corridor gets incorporated,” Davis said.
However, Davis said Brookhaven has no plans to drop its appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court.
“I think the work has already been done on it and it’s really just waiting for a decision,” Davis said. “It’s just a point of law that needs to be clarified by Supreme Court.”
Chamblee City Councilman Tom Hogan took to Facebook to welcome the new residents of Chamblee on election night.
“As a major critic of Brookhaven’s attempt to annex Century Center during the middle of the referendum process, I feel validated that the courts upheld what we all knew was right and just, and that the citizens did not befall the confusion created by the underhanded campaign tactics meant to mislead them,” Hogan said. “That being said, the time for healing is upon us. I call on the city of leaders of Brookhaven to drop their appeal to the Georgia Supreme Court and return to a condition where us Brother Cities can finally work together to move our region forward.”
In 2012, the Chamblee annexation referendum failed by a razor-thin margin. Acknowledging ballot issues, legislators gave residents a second chance and put the annexation measure back before voters in 2013, where it was approved by more than 60 percent.
Elmer Veith of Citizens for Chamblee, the group that advocated for the Chamblee annexation, said he thinks voters overwhelmingly approved the measure this time around because they recognized the impending changes in their region.
The portion of DeKalb County below the annexation area, just south of I-85, is in a state of political upheaval. Several groups are vying to create cities in the area.
“They realize another city is going to form on the other side of I-85,” Veith said. “They realized it was time to make a choice and have some control over how the area is going to move forward.”
Regarding Century Center, Veith said he thinks it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would reverse the vote and give the property to Brookhaven.
“At this point it’s time for Brookhaven and Chamblee to put this behind them and shake hands,” Veith said.
Though the annexation referendum was driven by residents in the Dresden East area, Chamblee officials have championed the effort.
Following the election, Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson posted a note of congratulations on the Facebook page of the Dresden East Civic Association.
“Citizen involvement is vital to the success of a community, and it is evident that you have this in your neighborhoods,” Clarkson said. “I have particularly been inspired by the exceptional volunteers that have stepped up for this effort. I look forward to working with all of you as we continue to improve our region, our county and most importantly the great city of Chamblee!”