Emory Annexation Halted by DeKalb Objections

UPDATE (8/30/17 at 11:33 a.m.): This article has been updated to reflect Emory’s statement on the vote delay.

A Sept. 5 vote to approve Emory University’s petition for annexation into the city of Atlanta has been postponed in an effort to resolve issues between Atlanta and DeKalb County, according to Atlanta City Councilmember and Emory Director of Development Alex Wan.

Emory filed for annexation in a June 27 petition and had anticipated its main campus to be annexed into the city of Atlanta by the first week of September. However, the Atlanta City Council delayed the vote following an Aug. 1 letter from DeKalb County Commission citing numerous objections, including increased demands on DeKalb County infrastructure and legal infirmities that require corrections or more collaboration before the proposal is approved.

Wan said that the Atlanta City Council is aiming to vote on the proposal by Dec. 4, which will be its last meeting of the year. If the proposal passes on time, the annexation would take place Jan. 1.

Emory’s petition included Egleston Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta (CHOA), Synod of South Atlantic Presbyterian Church, Georgia Power and Villa International. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) submitted its own petition for Atlanta annexation on the same day as Emory, and had also anticipated that its annexation would be complete this fall, according to a June 27 CDC statement emailed to the Wheel.

Emory gained eligibility for annexation by purchasing a $345,000 home at 1644 Briarcliff Road in August 2016 that adjoins Emory’s campus and the Atlanta city border. The petition cited Atlanta’s 100-percent method for annexation, which requires all involved property owners to consent to annexation.

The DeKalb County commissioner representing the petitioned properties, Jeff Rader, said he believes the annexation procedures ignore potential consequences. Rader said he is concerned that the arrangement will gloss over DeKalb leaders’ abilities to maintain roles in policy conversations.

Rader’s also worried about a domino effect in which residents and local communities, including Oxford Road homes and some Emory Village restaurants, follow Emory’s example in pursuing annexation. Those areas would be eligible to join the venture because they’d share a border with the newly annexed Emory and, therefore, with the city of Atlanta.

Rader said this effect jeopardizes neighborhood stability, as it is within the rights of eligible residents to petition for annexation into Atlanta on their own.

Emory Village Alliance Chair David Moore said that he’s spoken with a property owner whose land is adjacent to Emory’s border and would become eligible for annexation if Emory is annexed. Moore said the owner has no intention of pursuing annexation because of the increase in taxes that would result.

“I don’t see any direct effects from this annexation for Emory Village,” Moore continued.

Newly annexed properties would experience sales tax increases of about one percent to match the amount levied in the city of Atlanta, DeKalb County School District (DCSD) Chief Financial Officer Michael Bell said. Even so, he said that it would be “a feather in Atlanta’s hat to get Emory and the CDC.”

Emory University does not pay property tax on its educational buildings.

DCSD filed a lawsuit against Atlanta in December 2016 to stop 58 homes from annexing in Druid Hills. The case was dismissed by a judge, and DCSD is appealing.

APS declined a request for comment.

Atlanta residents may see a cost increase if the county continues to undertake additional fire service responsibilities, according to Bell. The Atlanta fire station that would cover Emory is too small, so an intergovernmental agreement including “Payments in Lieu of Taxes” (PILOT) would have to be made to DeKalb County to continue normal fire service operations.

Police services would also become Atlanta’s responsibility though the university-funded Emory Police Department (EPD) would remain in place.

MARTA would like to dip into Atlanta tax revenues to move forward with the Clifton Corridor Transit Initiative. A proposed two-mile MARTA light rail line could extend an additional two miles to reach Clifton Road businesses including Emory University, Emory University Hospital (EUH) and the CDC, three of the largest employers in the Atlanta area.

Betty Willis, senior associate vice president for government and community affairs at Emory, said that this would be the first major MARTA expansion into the area in 20 years, and that while Atlanta taxes will fund the project, DeKalb residents will most directly receive the benefits.

“The whole area is just exploding,” Willis said

In an Aug. 30 statement to the Wheel, Associate Director of Media Relations for Emory University Elaine Justice wrote, “Emory respects the arbitration process established under Georgia law. Emory worked closely with the City of Atlanta to ensure there are no proposed changes in zoning, land use or density with Emory’s annexation, and we believe that the arbitration panel will agree there are no such changes.”

Richard Chess contributed reporting. 

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