ATL annexation of Emory et al.: City confronts DeKalb’s complaint

By David Pendered

Atlanta on Tuesday laid a big piece of its foundation for the upcoming legal effort to provide a seamless annexation into the city of Emory University and neighboring institutions. The move appears designed to address provisions in a state annexation law regarding future development and density in annexation areas.

On Tuesday, a city official, a committee chair of the Atlanta City Council, and a representative of Emory and several other institutions, made the move at a meeting of the Atlanta City Council’s Community Development Committee.

The collective case they made appears to seek to undermine any contention DeKalb County may make that Atlanta will approve increased density in the annexed area. Barring increased density, the annexation effort seems to be looking at green lights, according to provisions outlined in legislation the General Assembly approved in 2007,

All speakers on Tuesday seemed to be addressing the provisions of a state-mandated arbitration panel that is to provide guidance on the proposed annexation. Here’s the pertinent moment from Tuesday’s meeting of the Community Development Committee of the Atlanta City Council.

Chuck Palmer, representing Emory and all neighboring institutions except the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention:

  • “We are not seeking any land use changes in connection with this annexation. This is a mature, developed campus There’s no plans for development. But as part of the annexation process, we have to post zoning designations and land use designations. … Again, we are not seeking any particular land use change whatsoever.”

Committee Chair Natalyn Archibong, a lawyer, stepped in to augment Palmer’s presentation:

  • “So, I understand that the land use classifications in DeKalb aren’t exactly the same in terms of descriptions or that; so, while you say you’re not changing them, you’re making them conform to the closest land use we have in Atlanta.”

To which Palmer responded:

  • “That’s exactly right., Councilmember Archibong. You state it well. That’s what we’re doing.”

Essentially, advocates of annexation contended that any future development of the annexed area will differ little, if at all, from what is currently allowed by DeKalb County. Atlanta and DeKalb have similar land use districts, and Atlanta has additional shelves within each land use classification that don’t have bearing on DeKalb’s ordinances, city officials contended.

If an arbitration panel created by the state concurs with the city’s position, the annexation can continue unimpeded. Even if the panel finds issues, the city can annex the property and resolve the issues in the coming year.

  • House Bill 2 established a process by which the state Department of Community Affairs will arbitrate differences between a city seeking to annex property and a county with concerns over the annexation.
  • The law provides the arbitration panel consists of five members. DCA administers the appointment to the panels, maintains three pools of volunteers to serve on the panels.
  • The panels are drawn from the three pools – current or recent city elected officials; current or recent county elected officials; and academicians with a masters degree or higher who are currently employed by an institution of higher learning in Georgia other than the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.


David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

4 replies
  1. atlman says:

    CDC doesn’t have to be annexed because the main reason driving the annexation – MARTA access – would be addressed with the Emory annexation, as there is already transportation from Emory to CDC. Still, if DeKalb residents are angry over losing Emory, they can blame 1) the state GOP and 2) their own leaders. This is going on because the state rejected the proposed MARTA expansion last year … not expanding outside the borders to Cobb and Gwinnett, but rather new projects inside the existing service area. It was supposed to be a bunch of huge projects in Atlanta, Fulton and DeKalb (Clayton not so much). But the GOP put the brakes on the the deal, first to mollify the north Fulton GOPers and then to head off the possibility that if Atlanta-Fulton-DeKalb got everything they wanted in Parker’s proposal, they would be less likely to help pay for and participate in a truly regional transit system that the suburbanites are finally realizing that they need after all this time. So Parker’s proposal fell apart, and it was replaced with a city of Atlanta-only deal. DeKalb COULD have fought harder to get the funds and projects for their county – which would have included Emory – as well but they didn’t because of a leadership vacuum and the fears that a tax increase would cost them politically. They decided to sit on their hands and wait on the state to decide on a regional solution.

    Emory decided that they were tired of waiting – it has only been 40 years right? – and to just join Atlanta, pay the added MARTA tax themselves, and finally get the Emory spur into built (the CDC portion of the spur will have to wait on the state along with Lithonia and the other long-delayed DeKalb projects). The state has very little incentive to step in and stop this via arbitration because it was their decision to kowtow to the Sandy Springs brigade that forced Emory to act in the first place. But here is the deal: with Georgia Tech, Emory, Georgia State and the various arts schools (i.e. Atlanta College of Art, Art Institute of Atlanta and the Atlanta campus of SCAD (and oh yes the AU Center if anyone cares) the city can market itself as a leader in higher education on par with the likes of Los Angeles, Houston, Pennsylvania and New York City. 3 of the state’s top 5 universities will be within the city limits (leaving only UGA and Mercer … with Mercer a good bit behind GT and Emory although granted they are comparable with Georgia State) as will be 2 of the state’s 4 medical schools (leaving Mercer and GHSU/MCG).Report

    • NoelM says:

      Spot on, atlman. This all could have been done in an “easier,” more inclusive, more holistic way, with less fuss and muss – and more transit options for the whole Atlanta area.

      In the absence of that – give the hugely disappointing failure of the 2012 large-scale TSPLOST – this is the best option we have to move many, many people off of Atlanta’s roads and provide a much needed new rail spur that will serve Atlanta well for many, many years to come.Report

    • TravelinFool says:

      @atlman Wow, great post until I got to the point about anyone caring about Morehouse, Spellman Morehouse School of Medicine, and Clark-Atlanta, you know the AU Center. @atlwhitemanReport


Leave a Reply

Want to join the discussion?
Feel free to contribute!

What are your thoughts?