Saturday, December 6, 2014

Further confirmation: Decatur will not annex the Medlock Park neighborhood

SUMMARY: MANA Board members (again) met with City of Decatur officials and contacted the City of Decatur Schools Superintendent to discuss the possibility of the Medlock Park neighborhood being annexed to City of Decatur. Each party deferred to the others’ authority but as is clear in the information below, (1) annexation is the purview of the City Commission and they oppose the idea of annexing the Medlock Park neighborhood and (2) the school system is also against annexing the Medlock Park neighborhood.

Annexation to Decatur is not an option and our neighborhood should move on to considering other alternatives while continuing to oppose City of Decatur’s commercial annexation. Whether we join a city or remain unincorporated, Decatur's unreasonable commercial annexation plan (1) negatively impacts our neighborhood going forward (i.e. zoning, traffic) and (2) undermines the County’s commercial tax base that funds our DeKalb County schools.


Several representatives from MANA attended a meeting with City of Decatur Mayor Jim Baskett, City Manager Peggy Merriss, and Senator-elect Elena Parent to discuss the possibility of Decatur’s annexing the Medlock neighborhood. Many thanks go to neighbors Donna Skelcy and Kirsten Widner for their excellent summaries of the meeting, which are combined and reproduced here.
The mayor and the city manager acknowledged receipt of the petitions from various surrounding areas but will not act on those petitions or any other requests for annexation into their city before the end of the year.
  • Decatur is at the end of a long-term annexation planning process. It has been very systematic, and they are not inclined to make ad hoc changes to it at this point. 
  • They both stated that, working in conjunction with consultants and the City of Decatur schools, they have created a Decatur Master plan which contains the commercial and residential areas they hope to annex. They worked closely with the Decatur School Board in devising their Master plan because the school board is very concerned about the total number of students that the City Schools can reasonably accommodate.. The school district is already anticipating a doubling of their student population by 2020 without any annexation. Because of that, the School Board has serious concerns about adding the students that would come with our additional 1400 homes
  • There will be no changes to that master plan this year. They suggested that, because they are working hand-in-hand with the school board, we talk to the school board and attempt to convince them to accept our neighborhood into the city of Decatur at some time in the future. They did admit that only the city commission, not the school board, has the legal power to annex our neighborhood into Decatur, but that the City Commission has agreed to only go forward with annexation that was supported by both elected bodies.
  • The Decatur City Commission seeks to adopt their final Master Plan no later than December 15, 2014.
  • We stated our objection to their annexing the commercial areas without the residential areas, citing the fact our residents have backyards that abut the commercial areas but would have no voice in determining what goes there. The mayor insisted the City of Decatur's zoning regulations require a transition area and would, thus, protect the Medlock residents from having commercial business right in their backyard. He said the City of Decatur protected another area of the city that had a "non-Decatur" neighborhood abutting their commercial area and those people were satisfied with how it turned out.
  • The mayor disagreed with our concern that their annexation of commercial property would affect our ability to get the neighborhood annexed into another city.
  • The mayor stated that if the legislature were to force a cram-down of Medlock into the City of Decatur, then Decatur would most likely not move forward with the annexation of commercial areas.
  • The mayor attempted to point us to other solutions: i.e. LaVista Hills, City of Atlanta.
  • As we did in a previous meeting with Decatur officials, we attempted to sell them on Medlock as a viable addition to their city. We explained we have trails, a nature preserve and a school within our boundaries. The City Manager believes the school belongs solely to DeKalb County and would not be available to the City of Decatur.
  • Senator-elect Elena Parent said Decatur's current high tax revenues provide it with more money than other nearby areas. She also mentioned that their residents have made the choice to have higher taxes. Her concern is the loss of commercial revenue that will affect her entire district, which includes large unincorporated areas of the county.
  • We explained we needed a statement from the City of Decatur stating that the city refuses to annex the Medlock neighborhood. The City Manager stated that policy statements had to be approved by the entire City Commission.. It could only come from the City Commission. As a compromise, the mayor offered to have us draft a recap of today's meeting which we could send to him and he would then either affirm or dis-affirm the contents of the meeting recap. We agreed to this offer. 
We have since received a statement from the mayor that states, “I am okay with the summary of the meeting with the modifications sent on Friday." Those modifications have been made in the summary above. However, we also refer readers to page B5 of the December 2 Atlanta Journal Constitution where there is this statement: “But Baskett recently reiterated that Decatur wants only the shopping and not the 1,300 homes, which would burden the school system.”

After the meeting with Mayor Baskett and City Manager Merris, we contacted Dr. Phyllis Edwards, Superintendent of the Decatur City Schools, and Mrs. Bernadette Seals, Chair of the Board of Education, to ask them about a possible future annexation of Medlock.


From acting MANA President Lynn Ganim:
Dr. Edwards and Mrs. Seals, 
Representatives of the Medlock Area Neighborhood Association met yesterday with Mayor Baskett and City Manager Merriss to ask about the possibility of our 1300-plus home neighborhood being annexed into Decatur.  We were told that there is no likelihood of our neighborhood's being annexed into Decatur now, but that a year or so from now things might be different. We also were told that we should talk with people representing the school system to get a definitive answer about our position in the future. 
As you might or might not know, our area is in an awkward position as a virtual island in the midst of areas claimed for new cities or annexation into existing cities.  We need to tell our folks whether or not there is a reasonable hope in the future that Decatur would annex us. 
While we are happy to meet with you at your convenience, we would also be satisfied if you can give us a definitive statement about where the City Schools of Decatur stand when it comes to annexing areas not already on your master plan. We understand that additional annexation is out of the question this year. 
However, do you foresee any future situation where you would consider annexing Medlock?  If so, what would the requirements be for such a move? If you see no realistic possibility in future years, we would appreciate your telling us clearly and without reservation. Our neighborhood, which is feeling extremely unsettled at the moment, would then know how to move forward.  
I am attaching a map so that you can see where our area lies.
Thank you for understanding our concerns and taking the time to respond to this request.
Response from City of Decatur Schools Superintendent Phyllis Edwards
Ms. Ganim: 
 Thank you for contacting me.  I am copying my Board Chair, Mrs. Seals, on my response. 
I understand that you have spoken with the city leaders.  Annexation is really something that rests with the city in terms of authority.  They provided us with the map of areas they were considering.  I have been working on the details of how annexation will affect the schools and the report is on the CSD website. 
The city asked us to provide information and is asking the School Board to weigh in on their efforts toward annexation.  The Board will take up the question on December 9th at 6:30 at our regularly scheduled meeting. 
From my perspective, there are many challenges.  I went into the profession of education (first as a teacher and now as a Superintendent) because I care deeply about providing the best possible education for all children.   Within the 4 square miles of the City of Decatur, there is relatively little space for new school facilities.  The schools that the city has are all very small, neighborhood schools.  They are charming but are on very small areas of land.  I have done everything I possibly can to expand the existing sites. 
The system has grown, actually doubled, since I arrived in 2003. The enrollment is now 4300 student and we are expected to grow to 7000 by 2020. 
To answer your question, the area that you are in, is lovely and I am sure the children and families would be a pleasure to serve.  To date, no one has been able to say definitively whether if an area is annexed, any school within the annexed area is also conveyed to the new school system. 
Another part of the problem is that several existing schools that might be available already have contracts with other entities, International Schools or individual private schools. 
I can deliver a quality education but to do so requires schools and seats for the children.   CSD will be struggling to meet the capital needs and teacher/staff additions - as it stands now- with the existing map.
Please feel free to contact me if I have not answered your question. 
Dr. Phyllis Edwards