Friday, August 29, 2014

City of Briarcliff Initiative (COBI) Information Meeting Notes, August 28

Our notes from the meeting, with some additional information and links thrown in...

The meeting took place 7-9pm on August 28 at the North Decatur Presbyterian Church. 50+ people were present as the meeting began, with 10+ indicating they had not attended any other meetings about cityhood. City of Briarcliff Initiative (COBI) speakers included Allen Venet, Herman Lorenz, Don Broussard, and Amy Parker (COBI leaders and residents of nearby Sagamore Hills, Leafmore and Briarcliff Woods neighborhoods).

An audience member distributed a handout with background on what she believes is a driving force behind some cityhood movements (e.g., ALEC).

Venet and Parker clarified that they have always been interested in our area and included us in their maps. The audience was appreciative that COBI took the time to set up a meeting with us and share information about cityhood and annexation in general and COBI in specific, even if so much is still up in the air. Lynn Ganim (acting MANA president) clarified that MANA is trying to arrange meetings in September with City of Atlanta, City of Decatur and also a representative for the "stay in DeKalb County" viewpoint; once we all have that information, MANA will conduct a survey to see how our residents perceive these different proposals.

Venet summarized the history of the Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker proposals, per the 2014 legislative session. Venet also mentioned Lakeside was invited to this meeting but wasn't present and Ganim read the email she received from Mary Kay Woodworth (chairperson of the Lakeside City Alliance) explaining that Lakeside rejected the invitation because “prematurely holding an informational cityhood meeting could set unrealistic or unattainable expectations.” Venet added that he also asked Bill Floyd of the DeKalb Municipal Association’s to attend, and Floyd also declined. It would appears that these groups value being “strategic” above communicating with neighbors who are sincerely worried about how cityhood and annexation will affect their communities. 

Venet gave a very round-about answer to the question of how City of Decatur's annexation plan affects the Vinson Study’s viability assessment for Briarcliff. The question resurfaced later, and Lorenz and Broussard added that little pieces here and there don't change much but if you add them up, they have an effect. They also noted that the Vinson study did not include Emory Point and that is a big revenue generator. They did not state that Suburban Plaza/Medline + Emory Commons (and nearby businesses) have a similar combined value (i.e., that their loss to annexation by Decatur would be compensated by Emory Point). Audience members asked if COBI would need to re-do their feasibility study in view of Decatur’s annexation plan. Venet said that Representative Mike Jacobs said no and sort of waived that requirement but it is understood that if there is a referendum, an updated study with finalized boundary lines would be needed. Venet encouraged the audience to review the Vinson Institute feasibility study, which is posted on the COBI website.

There was no follow-up to the comment that City of Decatur started out with one annexation map and then expanded the boundary further so that it now completely engulfs the Medline LCI study area; it all looks similar to the “cherry-picking” that resulted in Lakeside’s very irregular borders and which has been roundly criticized. City of Decatur has approved a contract for the Sizemore Group to complete an annexation study. Sizemore was a major player in the Medline LCI study. You can see MANA, CHCA and Good Growth DeKalb’s concerns about the study here (in particular, about the eventual routing of Scott Blvd/ N Decatur Rd. traffic through our neighborhoods, conveniently outside City of Decatur borders). 

COBI clarified that at this point, Medlock Park and Clairmont Heights are simply looking into be included in a proposal so as to have the opportunity to vote should the proposal succeed ratification by the legislature and governor.

Venet said that he had talked to Senator Jason Carter and Carter said he would support the Briarcliff proposal [should the proposal be approved by the legislature, should Carter be elected governor].

People asked about Emory University’s involvement in all this and Venet said that Emory originally claimed neutrality, but in reality remains attached to its Atlanta identity. Venet also explained that Emory believes a light rail connecting the campus to MARTA is critical to its future growth, and Emory is impressed with Atlanta's recent successes securing federal funds for projects such as the Beltline and streetcars. 

Schools were discussed very, very briefly. There was no reason for the Vinson Institute to include anything about schools in the Briarcliff study because constitutionally, COBI will not touch the schools. Unless the state constitution changes, schools come into play only under an annexation scenario into an existing city that has a grandfathered school systems (that would mean Decatur or Atlanta). The school buildings themselves are owned by the school district, not by the County. Should there be a transfer of ownership, fund generated by the sale would not go to the municipal government but rather to the school district.

As to progress in negotiations between the overlapping Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker proposals, Venet stated that this is all very new (per this week’s announcement that the three organizations must finalize their maps by November 15) and that the COBI board is meeting later this week. He also shared that Representative Jacobs had named Bill Floyd to “mediate” process through which maps will be finalized (this was also mentioned in the CAN meeting the previous evening). Venet was uncertain about what this mediation will entail. Bill Floyd previously served as mayor of Decatur and now represents the DeKalb Municipal Association (DMA), which lobbies for cities; he also serves in the County’s Task Force, representing DMA, and as noted above, declined participating in this meeting.

The audience asked what might happen if “no one picks us” so to speak. COBI explained that these proposals will not be allowed to carve a "donut" or island where a neighborhood is surrounded by cities and cut off from an unincorporated area. However, that there is a risk of an area being left out of nearby proposals and being left as "a schmear" connecting to a larger tract of unincorporated land and this is bad—quality of services can be affected simply as a matter of geography. The island scenario would be if our area were cut off the unincorporated parts of the County by Atlanta to the west, Decatur to the south, and some new city or cities to the north/west. The "schmear" scenario would be if we had a new city to the north, Atlanta and Decatur to the west and south respectively, while remaining municipally connected to unincorporated DeKalb to the east and south.

The meeting thus concluded, we left pondering dairy metaphors: who moved our cheese, and how to not become a schmear in DeKalb County’s history.

Please stay tuned for additional meeting announcements.