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.