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TOWN HALL MEETING DRAWS A BIG CROWD

Five hundred or more Druid Hills residents filled the sanctuary of Glenn Memorial Church on Tuesday night, August 20.

The meeting was called by the DHCA to help inform the community about cityhood and annexation options as the proposed City of Lakeside pursues what one attendee referred to as a “land grab” for commercial properties in order to create its own viable tax base.

Both DHCA president Justin Critz and Mike St. Louis, co-chair of the association’s Committee to Explore Cityhood and Annexation, emphasized that Druid Hills must develop a plan rather than let outside forces determine the neighborhood’s future.
The main speakers, each representing a very different view of what is best for Druid Hills, were: Allen Venet of the City of Briarcliff Initiative (COBI), Duriya Farooqui and Hans Utz of the Mayor’s Office, City of Atlanta, and acting DeKalb County CEO Lee May. Matthew Lewis, chair of the Druid Hills Charter Cluster, also made remarks.

Armed with a power point presentation, Venet said that the City of Briarcliff would assume responsibility for the following services: law enforcement, road and street construction and maintenance, enforcement of building, housing, and other codes, planning and zoning, and recreational facilities such as parks. “Good government” means “fair government,” Venet explained – and that would mean transparency and responsiveness.

COBI is awaiting the results of a feasibility study being conducted by the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia, which will be completed before the next legislative session. The DHCA contributed to the fee required for the study in order to preserve as many options as possible for the community. Venet noted that specifics about who would serve as public officials and the structure of government cannot be known at this time.

Mr. Venet also noted that if the City of Briarcliff were to form, it would have no effect on the proposed Druid Hills Charter Cluster, as any newly formed city takes on the county school system unchanged.

Ms. Farooqui and Mr. Utz also used a power point presentation to help illustrate their case for why Druid Hills would be an especially good fit with the City of Atlanta. They cited the city’s financial stability, increased safety, support of parks and recreation as well as the arts, and excellent working relationships with local, state, and federal officials.

Greater efficiency and responsiveness by the City of Atlanta will be demonstrated in the new 3-1-1 system (to make its debut in 2014) through which residents will be able to receive instant guidance with problems and questions. All city departments will be accessed via this single 3-1-1 number.

“A great city is comprised of great neighborhoods,” commented Mr. Utz, referring to the Neighborhood Planning Unit (NPU) system through which individual neighborhoods work collaboratively with City of Atlanta officials on issues of particular relevance.
Citing Atlanta’s eight historic districts, Ms. Farooqui seemed to speak directly to the Clifton Ridge situation in describing the professionalism and independence of the Urban Design Commission and the process of historic designation.

The configuration of the public schools if Druid Hills were to join the City of Atlanta cannot be fully determined at this point, but there is room to explore possibilities, representatives said.

To scattered applause, Mr. May noted that he has been on the job for just over a month. Declining to make a formal presentation, he acknowledged that DeKalb County faces great challenges and that the future of its leadership is uncertain.

“We have been reactive and need to be proactive,” May said, though he offered no specific proposals for improving governance and did not articulate the benefits to Druid Hills of staying within unincorporated DeKalb County.

Mr. May expressed his concern that the various recent and current cityhood initiatives may be occurring without due consideration being paid to the effects they may have on the residents of the county as a whole. Mr. May expressed a desire to be able to study such effects and how communities may incorporate more equitably.

With the floor open to questions, audience members focused on taxes, historic preservation, and how the community would actually go about becoming the City of Briarcliff or of being annexed to the City of Atlanta.

In summing up, Mr. St. Louis reiterated that Druid Hills was forced to act quickly because the Lakeside Alliance had moved aggressively during the first half of the year. He urged everyone to fill out a survey that was distributed.

The unscientific survey indicated a stronger interest in the City of Briarcliff Initiative, but Unincorporated DeKalb and City of Atlanta were not far behind. Ultimately this survey serves as more of a baseline than a determined direction, although it, and the comments included with the survey, indicate that the Cityhood Committee has really only begun its work. Going forward it will be the Committee’s task to provide more concrete information regarding the mechanics and ramifications of each option presented. Please stay tuned and stay involved.

19 Comments
  1. Margaret #

    Thanks Mike for all your work on this and to all the others as well. We all need to keep informed and keep talking about all the possibilities that may happen. I also think knowing more about the legislative process is extremely important since it will be in their hands for the final decisions. We need to back up our options and at least make sure Lakeside’s appeal doesn’t get passed through.

    09/15/2013
  2. Mike St. Louis #

    In reply to Peter Melton:

    There is not a simple answer to this question.

    The Druid Hills Civic Association (DHCA) has, to date, not taken a position on the various cityhood and annexation options that confront it. There are two main reasons for this: 1) the issues are complicated, and DHCA has only over the past several months begun to seriously study the options, compelled by the proposals for several new cities in north-central DeKalb; and 2) the community that DHCA represents is just beginning to appreciate the consequences to Druid Hills of actions by others, so a mandate for coordinated action has not yet emerged. In general, however, all newly proposed Cities try to annex the highest possible ratio of commercial property to residential property. That formula allows them to lower tax rates for themselves, leaving the rest of unincorporated DeKalb County (including Druid Hills) to shoulder a higher tax burden because of the “loss” of that commercial property.

    In the August 20 Town Hall Meeting, DHCA highlighted three potential options for Druid Hills. Although useful in portraying diverse outcomes for Druid Hills, in reality, the “options” on which Druid Hills residents or any Georgia voters would ever have a chance to vote are fewer than three, and we can’t discern at this point what if any option will be sent to a vote. The Georgia Legislature will, in its 2014 session, create rules not only for which options can actually be considered, but the Legislature will at the same time decide WHO can vote (only persons inside the map it generates as an option).

    This situation is evolving on many fronts, and it is certainly in the best interest of Druid Hills residents to remain informed and engaged, including advocating for and contributing to options that each household thinks is best. If a consensus emerges on what is right and what is possible, DHCA will do its best to provide leadership to its community, with serious concern for the well-being of the broader DeKalb and metro Atlanta communities in which we are embedded.

    This is a longish answer to a simple question, but it is an attempt to reflect the complicated situation we face. It is essential for residents to appreciate that this is not a sprint, but likely a marathon leading up into and through the 2014 Georgia Legislative session. We strongly urge residents of Druid Hills and surrounding communities to inform themselves, find ways to communicate with neighbors, and communicate with the DHCA or their own Civic Associations, through their street-specific list-serves, Division Chairs, and whatever means works for them.

    08/30/2013
  3. Mike St. Louis #

    I should have mentioned that — if you have even gotten to this far on the DHCA website — you are an internet One-Percenter and Jedi Warrior compared to the majority of your neighbors. Congratulations, but please take your responsibility seriously. Please reach out to your immediate neighbors, help them negotiate getting on the website, really be kind and help them to connect, to read, and to share their opinion. You’ll probably have to do this with each of them a few times (ie, 3 – 200 times) before it becomes natural. However, most of our highly accomplished Cityhood Committee hasn’t yet managed to access the Druid Hills eNews, so no one should feel bad. In the end, we and our children will all be above average…

    08/28/2013
  4. Mike St. Louis #

    To Peter Melton,

    in response to your question:

    “Does the DHCA plan on making a recommendation to the residents of Druid Hills [i.e., City of Briarcliff, annexation by Atlanta, or remain in unincorporated DeKalb]?”

    DHCA and its Committee on Options for Cityhood & Annexation, which I chair, have been debating this question for many hours. What, in fact, are the real options for us? What are the tripwires for making a decision?

    We will post a response in the next 48 hours. Until then, we appreciate your inquiry, and we hope to hear more from Druid Hills residents either here on the website or directly to the DHCA Division Chairs, or to me, as the Chair of the Cityhood Committee. Most important, please talk to 3-4 of your neighbors, especially if you don’t talk to them often, and see what they are thinking. We hope to hear from you all.

    Also – please sign up for the eNews on the DHCA website — the very best source for information about the broader neighborhood. Next year, you won’t even know where the July 4 Parade will start if you are not tuned into the Druid Hills eNews.

    Mike St. Louis
    Chair, Committee on Options for Cityhood and Annexation for Druid Hills

    08/28/2013
  5. TA Price #

    As a follow-up to Cluster re-vote mentioned above, I would like to participate in the vote even thought I do not have children — is this possible?

    08/26/2013
  6. Peter Melton #

    I attended the meeting at Glenn Memorial. I don’t live in Druid Hills, but my neighborhood is caught up in the cityhood matter, and I was curious to see this issue from your perspective.

    This question is directed to the officers and board of the Druid Hills Civic Association. Does the DHCA plan on making a recommendation to the residents of Druid Hills [i.e., City of Briarcliff, annexation by Atlanta, or remain in unincorporated DeKalb]?

    08/26/2013
  7. Cynthia Tauxe #

    I noticed in the presentation from the City of Atlanta regarding annexation that they implied that the structure of the new entity might be similar to the existing bizarre status of Division One in Druid Hills, where the residents of Fairview, Ponce de Leon, and portions of Springdale, Oakdale, and Lullwater pay taxes and vote in Unincorporated DeKalb County but receive some services from the City of Atlanta including Historic Preservation review from the Atlanta Urban Design Commission. I have heard some residents sum up their status as “taxation without representation” since they have no elected representative in the Atlanta City government. I would like to know if the City is proposing extending the existing status of Division One to all of Druid Hills, or if they have another vision that would include elected representation to the City Council? If they are proposing extending the existing situation, it would be interesting to hear from some of the residents of the existing area to understand how they like it. Thanks for taking my question. -Cynthia Tauxe

    08/25/2013
    • Justin Critz, President, Druid Hills Civic Association #

      Cynthia, I live on Fairview in City of Atlanta. Alex Wan is our elected representative on the City Council. I have no complaints about the level of service we receive.

      08/27/2013
  8. Becky Lough #

    There seems to be a presumption that there would be a great detriment, although unspoken, to Druid Hills’ staying in DeKalb Co. If not, why would Druid Hills feel so pressured to make a decision right away so as not to be “preempted” by the Lakeside city movement? I realize that DHCA contributed to the BriarLake City movement in order to preserve all options, and I appreciate that. I also am very grateful for the DHCA’s efforts in trying to inform residents. But can someone speak candidly about what the fears are concerning staying in DeKalb County instead of going with any city?

    08/24/2013
    • Johnny Osborne, DHCA Yard Sale Chair #

      Hey Becky,

      I haven’t been in DH very long and this past meeting was my first city-hall, but I think I have a sufficient grasp of the issue to provide an elementary explanation.

      Here’s the example:

      Let’s say we’re talking about the people in the county of Appleville. Appleville has lots of people and businesses that all pay taxes to the Appleville government. The Appleville government is set out to provide Pizza and Beer to the citizens of Appleville.
      Recently a group citizens in Appleville has set out to incorporate their own city within Appleville called Orangetown. For Orangetown to become incorporated it would need a new government and that government would have to take over the providing of Pizza or Beer or Both to those citizens within the newly formed Orangetown. The city of Orangetown draws up their proposed map for Orangetown and plan to take over Pizza responsibilities.

      In order to get the most tax dollars to fund their Pizza cravings, the Orangetown map is drawn to include as much commercial property (and subsequently tax dollars) as possible. This is problematic for the remaining citizens of Unincorporated Appleville.

      Here’s why:

      Before Orangetown became a city everyone in Appleville county got 100 pizzas and 10 kegs a year from the Appleville county government. Now that Orangetown has taken a disproportionate amount of the commercial property, the remaining citizens of Unincorporated Appleville have less money to go towards their pizza cravings. Since Orangetown has elected to continue to get Beer through the Appleville county government, issues of Kegs remain untouched.

      The Math:

      Pre-Orangetown: All citizens of Appleville county get 100 pizzas and 10 kegs a year.

      Post-Orangetown: Orangetown citizens get 110 pizzas and 10 kegs a year. Unincorporated
      Appleville county citizens get 90 pizzas and 10 kegs a year.

      Now replace Appleville with DeKalb County, Orangetown with Lakeside, Pizza with Parks, Police, & Permits, and Beer with everything else DeKalb County currently provides.
      This should give a basic idea of why Lakeside forming as it is currently planned is problematic for Druid Hills and the rest of Unincorporated DeKalb.

      If anyone understands the issue better than me, or finds a flaw in my example please chime in.

      08/27/2013
      • Becky Lough #

        Johnny — Thank-you very much for your example. I would really, really appreciate hearing comments on this. I thought I heard one or more persons at the 8/20 meeting say that city formation would be revenue neutral and one or more persons say that it would not be revenue neutral. Pardon my ignorance, but are there facts supporting both opinions and, if so, what are they? Who is right?

        08/27/2013
  9. Susan K. #

    I personally would be horrified if we became part of the City of Atlanta. The list of issues could fill volumes, Bill Campbell, overpaying for church property, grossly underpaid police, test cheating, water, taxes, etc. etc.

    The charter cluster won’t be approved, at least not this time around. Maybe another non-binding vote with respect to city hood could be done at the same time the revote for the charter cluster takes place? Just a thought.

    08/24/2013
  10. Mike St. Louis, Chair of the DHCA Committee to Explore Options for Cityhood and Annexation #

    Thanks for these thoughtful responses. We intend to have the powerpoint presentations posted shortly. We have not completely analyzed the survey administered at the Aug 20 Town Hall meeting, and do plan to post a more complete analysis later. However, it will be important not to over-interpret this very early survey done at a time when most of the community has not had a chance to really consider what the bona fide options are — the actual options will be rendered to some subset of voters by the legislature in their 2014 session. However, an informed and energized community can have a real impact on what those options will through political action and advocacy now, until, and throughout the legislative session.

    We DO want to survey the community again in increasing more precise ways. To do so, we need a list of email addresses for households in Druid Hills that is as complete as possible. Please sign up for the Druid Hills eNews on the DHCA website, and reach out to the Division Chair for your area. As Chair for Division 4, I hope to be able to have increasingly precise information about the opinions within Division 4 over the coming months, ideally as everyone becomes increasingly informed about the bona fide options.

    08/23/2013
  11. T A Price #

    Sorry to have missed this important meeting. I know several of my immediate neighbors and DH friends could not make the Town Hall due to the notification period. For future meetings, please try to give as much notification as possible to ensure a bigger turnout (of course, 500 is a significant turnout!)

    Please share the actual results of the Town Hall’s paper survey. In other words, how many votes were collected for each of the three proposed options? Will minutes of this meeting and other 2013 DHCA meetings be posted to this URL?

    Also, at the DHCA annual meeting earlier this year at Fernbank, there appeared to be more votes for annexing into the City of Atlanta. Can someone please post the minutes from the annual meeting to this URL?

    Additionally, is Druid Hills that is already within City of Atlanta limits being allocated to move to City of Braircliff?

    Thanks to all the volunteers who are working on this project!

    08/22/2013
  12. Joyce M. Pair. Ph.D. #

    A survey should be available to everyone, not just to attendees at the meeting. I, for one, was unable to attend, but I would certainly have cast my vote to be annexed to Atlanta rather than Briarcliff. Druid Hills is famous as an early suburb of the Capitol city of our state. Becoming residents of a dot on the map called Briarcliff is repugnant to me. No doubt many a vote was cast in the survey with City of Atlanta taxes in mind. My desire is that we remain ( mostly) a part of unincorporated DeKalb. That we find leadership to address issues in the county, rather than hastily jumping from the frying into the fire. If change we must, let us remain proudly citizens of the Capitol, home of the Braves, the Falcons, the Hawks, the high Museum. The Botanical Gardens, ecetera, ecetera, ecetera. Joyce M. Pair, Ph.D.

    08/22/2013
    • Mike St. Louis, 1031 Oakdale Road #

      Joyce,

      A group of DH neighbors in the DeKalb section is now exploring the option of trying to join our other half within the City of Atlanta. If you would like to be in contact with that group, you are welcome to contact Kirk Larson at runnerkirk10k@gmail.com

      10/18/2013
  13. Mary #

    It would be helpful if the powerpoint presentations could be made available online for those who were unable to attend.

    08/22/2013

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  1. August Newsletter | City of Briarcliff Initiative, Inc.
  2. Druid Hills prefers cityhood idea - slightly - Atlanta INtown Paper

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