The drive for a new city in north DeKalb County continues to move ahead - but with a major twist. The state House Government Affairs Committee voted 9-5 to allow voters in the Brookhaven area to choose whether to incorporate.
But after an amendment offered by state Rep. Edward Lindsey of Atlanta, the city is to be called Ashford, not Brookhaven. Brookhaven, as it is known, sits partly in Atlanta, DeKalb County and Fulton County. Some residents in the higher end residential settings objected to the Brookhaven name being used for the larger city of 49,000 residents that is contemplated.
The bill's sponsor, state Rep. Mike Jacobs (R-north DeKalb) was unperturbed by the change publically.
"Forward progress is always a good thing," he said.
State Sen. Fran Millar (R-Dunwoody) said he hoped to restore the Brookhaven name when the bill comes to the state senate. It now must be scheduled for a floor vote in the House where it is expected to pass.
In committee, an amendment by state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver (D-DeKalb) to change the date of the city referendum from July to November was defeated.
The Tuesday hearing and committee vote followed a hearing last week in which city advocates made their case and others came urging a delay in the process.
At that hearing, Jacobs reviewed the feasibility study performed by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute that concluded the city was financially feasible, even generating a $3 million surplus that Jacobs has promised would be used to roll back taxes three mills. Jacobs said the main goal of his bill is to provide government that is closer to the people than DeKalb County is able to provide.
“This is an opportunity for people to make local decisions where they live, work and play,” said Jacobs.
State Rep. Elena Parent (D-DeKalb) testified that she thought the bill was being rushed and that questions about boundaries, police services and the impact on the rest of DeKalb County needed to be answered.
“My constituents are not ready to vote this summer,” said Parent. “I’m not saying ‘no’, just saying ‘whoa.’”
Other representatives from DeKalb County also testified in opposition to the bill. County Commissioner Jeff Rader who has previously called for a moratorium on the creation of new cities, warned that there would be “unknown consequences” and asked “who will be picking up the slack?” from the lost revenue for the county.
“We need to look before we leap,” concluded Rader.
DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis said he was neither for nor against the bill but wants to further study the impact and fairness on the rest of the county. At a town hall meeting later that evening, Ellis said, “I’m headed toward the wait position. We need more information on Brookhaven and other cities before we allow it.”
DeKalb Police Chief Bill O’Brien criticized the creation of a new police department for a city of Brookhaven, saying that the DeKalb Police Department already has the manpower needed to address whatever situation comes up.
“Dunwoody just asked for things that we already have,” said Chief O’Brien. “We have the resources, folks.”
Among the dozen speakers against the creation of House Bill 636, some complained that their neighborhoods had not been asked if they wanted to be in the new city. Others complained that they had been left out. John Higley asked that the name ‘Brookhaven’ not be allowed saying, “Brookhaven is already a well organized, well-recognized area known in the city of Atlanta.”
Eugenie Viener presented what she was a signed petition with 500 names asking that the bill be delayed. Ashford Park’s neighborhood president, Ronnie Mayor, added, “We’re not against this. We just want all the information.”
The twenty supporters allowed to speak in favor of the bill mostly asked for the right to vote, adding that the supporters had followed the rules set by the legislature to follow a two-year process, fund a feasibility study and hold a series of community meetings.
Linley Jones, who is on the board of the “Brookhaven Yes” group, said “This effort to say ‘whoa’ is an effort to say ‘no.’”
Jones argued that a delay would be “death for our cause” as residents will move to annex to adjacent Dunwoody and/or Chamblee, thus making the city of Brookhaven unfeasible.
Dunwoody Mayor Mike Davis told the committee about the success of his city.
“We now control our own zoning. Police response time is in minutes,” said Davis. “We are very confident in what we have done.”
Chad Boles, a resident of Pine Valley, told legislators, “We can do much better with tax dollars than DeKalb County” as he described the dilapidated state of the Briarwood Recreation center.
Other residents complained that “taxes have tripled since 1999,” that “the parks aren’t safe to run in” but most of the speakers asked for the right to vote.
“Voting ‘yes’ simply means the people decide what they want,” J. Max Davis told the committee.’