By David Pendered
Atlanta has put the force of city law behind promises to protect the historic integrity of the Druid Hills neighborhood and not seek to annex adjacent properties for 10 years. Of note, the city specifically held the door open for future annexations in the area, according to legislation adopted Tuesday by the Atlanta City Council.
The city annexed 744 acres in the Druid Hills neighborhood in 2017. The land includes the bucolic campus of Emory University. DeKalb County’s board of commissioners and school board pushed back, but ultimately were not able to block or significantly impede the annexation.
The language regarding future annexation has the potential to spark future feuds with DeKalb County’s government and school board over the prestigious neighborhood.
The relevant passage in the legislation begins with a respectful nod to the serious implications of annexation. Then it unties the city’s hands regarding future annexation:
- “WHEREAS, this policy is intended to encourage thoughtful consideration of the potential benefits of annexation, particularly of multi-parcel annexation,
- “[B]ut not to prevent or discourage specific annexation requests which will continue to be considered on an individual basis, nor to establish a right of action in any third party seeking to challenge or dispute any future annexation….”
The annexation is a highlight of then Mayor Kasim Reed’s administration, if only because the prestigious role the area plays in Atlanta’s history can’t be overstated.
The entire residential neighborhood is listed by the National Park Service as the Druid Hills Historic District, in part because it displays the mature creativity of landscape architecture by the firm of Frederick Law Olmsted, and of residential architecture by Neil Read.
The history Emory’s campus and its role in academic life is the subject of a new book, released Aug. 1 and presented at last weekend’s Decatur Book Festival – Emory as Place: Meaning in a University of Landscape, by university historian Gary Hauk.
The legislation adopted Tuesday by the Atlanta City Council establishes as city ordinance terms two terms that previously had existed only as policies contained in the Emory Annexation Agreement.
The agreement is dated October 2017 and the city council voted in December 2017 to annex the land.
One of the two provisions assure that terms of the city’s Druid Hills Landmark District will continue forever – and cannot be amended – unless both Atlanta and DeKalb County agree to end or amend the terms. The boundaries of the historic district are identical in the city and county versions.
The other provision establishes criteria for future annexations within 250 feet of the boundaries of the 2017 annexation. The stated goal is to block “piecemeal” annexations in favor of annexation of entire residential communities and “small scale commercial development.”
Here is the relevant language in the legislation the council approved:
“WHEREAS, the City now desires to formalize and codify those two elements of the Emory Annexation Agreement policy by adopting them via ordinance.
“NOW THEREFORE THE CITY COUNCIL OF THE CITY OF ATLANTA, GEORGIA, HEREBY ORDAINS AS FOLLOWS:
- “Section 1: As provided in the Historic District section of the Emory Annexation Agreement, the City of Atlanta agrees that “[i]f after the execution date of this Agreement [October 17, 2017], the City annexes territory in the County that has been designated by the County as part of the Druid Hills Historic District as of the date of this Agreement, the City will, simultaneously with annexation, designate that property as part of the City’s Druid Hills Landmark District.
- “This requirement shall continue without expiration, unless and until the City and County both consent to its modification.” A map of the Druid Hills Historic District as of October 17, 2017 is attached as Exhibit “A”.
- “Section 2: The City of Atlanta hereby adopts the following policy stated in the Emory Annexation Agreement regarding future annexations involving property within 250 feet of the boundary of the approximately 744 acres encompassing Emory University, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta, Villa International, Synod of South Atlanta & Presbyterian Church (USA), and property owned by Georgia Power Company, as approved by Ordinance 17-O-1420 on December 13, 2017, and effectively annexed into the City of Atlanta on January 1, 2018 (as set forth on the map attached hereto as Exhibit “B” indicating the Annexed Area and the 250 feet perimeter):
- “The City agrees to adopt a written policy related to future annexations of rational areas within 250 feet of any boundary of the Annexed Area (the “affected area”). The policy would require future petitions for annexation into the City within the affected area to include an explanation of a rational basis for the annexation. Rational bases for annexation could be, for example, annexation in connection with natural boundaries, an entire community, or an entire street rather than a single lot. Easing or better managing service delivery demands would similarly provide a rational basis for an annexation. These examples are not intended to be exhaustive, but instead illustrative.
- “The purpose of this policy is to encourage land owners in the affected area to consider annexation of entire communities rather than piecemeal annexations that potentially de-stabilize existing residential communities and small scale commercial developments. The policy will also contain language indicating that the City generally is not in favor of single lot annexations in the affected area where land on both sides of such lot would remain in unincorporated DeKalb. Finally, the policy would require petitioners to describe why a single lot annexation is not de-stabilizing to the adjacent community.
- “This provision is not intended to, nor shall it, operate to give the County a right of action against any subsequent annexation that the County does not currently possess, or alter any right of action the County currently possesses.”