Inside an enigma

Ben Nelms's picture

There is something wrong in south Fulton. And it’s not the people.

What you are about to read may well upset a few apple carts, though that is not necessarily the intention. My allegiance is to the residents of south Fulton, the diamond of metro Atlanta, not to any party or its representatives. And what follows is the beginning, not the end.

Nearly two years ago, a growing number of residents in large parts of unincorporated Fulton County were itching to have the opportunity to have local control of their areas. Destiny waits, time doesn’t, you know. Following in the footsteps of Sandy Springs, some Fulton residents north and south decided they, too, should get the opportunity to see if forming new cities might be feasible. It would be a way to have local control over things like zoning and development. Make no mistake, regardless of your position on the issue of city-hood, this is important! If you haven’t noticed, there are subdivisions in unincorporated south Fulton, approved by Fulton County, that are virtually new and are already having leakage and other problems that a well-constructed home shouldn’t have after 20 years. Who was holding the builders’ feet to the fire to ensure that unsuspecting buyers wouldn’t get stuck holding the bag? Well, some homeowners are holding the bag. (Mind you, one of these subdivisions is a stone’s throw from the soon-to-be-famous Le Jardin.) And don’t think this shoddy workmanship in some subdivisions is endemic only to the unincorporated areas. Palmetto and Union City have their share of these issues. So did Fairburn, until that city issued an ultimatum to builders a few years ago. That, too, is an important point.

As for the potential formation of new cities north and south, the movement intensified in mid-2005, with legislators respecting residents’ wishes by introducing bills in 2006 that paved the way for the areas of Milton, John’s Creek, South Fulton and Chattahoochee Hills to vote for themselves. As you know, Milton and John’s Creek voted in June 2006 to accept the charter included in their bills and become cities. South Fulton and Chattahoochee Hills will vote in a little over three months to resolve that question.

But there are questions about how starkly different things have been in south Fulton, how differently the people of south Fulton have been treated. (These are neither party-specific nor north/south issues.) So here are some questions. They are just questions.

Why did the Milton and John’s Creek bills get dropped and approved so quickly while the South Fulton and Chatt Hills bills barely made it through the legislative process?

Why were Milton and John’s Creek given the vote in June 2006 while South Fulton and Chatt Hills had to wait until June 2007, allowing time for some of the prime development property in their areas to be annexed, largely through selective annexation?

You can’t blame the existing south Fulton cities for annexing to avoid being boxed in if the new cities pass. On the other hand, John’s Creek and Milton were protected from annexation attempts because they got to vote just a few months after their bills passed, hardly enough time for the north cities to go through the annexation process, including a sign-off by U.S. Dept. of Justice.

Why were Chatt Hills and South Fulton not afforded the same protection by their legislators that the north cities received from theirs, especially considering that the bills that formed the southern cities also had specific geographical boundaries, the city limits, included in them?

Why was the language of the south Fulton bills so vague by the time they reached the full Senate and House so as to allow for existing cities to annex?

Were any of the lobbying efforts for annexations by existing south Fulton cities done by Fulton County employees?

Prior to the 2006 vote by the Senate and House, why did some legislators meet with lobbyists for the existing south Fulton cities to work out the details of annexation that would benefit those cities but did not meet with the proponents of the new cities? Were proponents of the new cities not worthy of inclusion?

Why didn’t the proponents of South Fulton and Chatt Hills get a chance to review the mysteriously altered bills prior to the vote by the House and Senate?

And much more locally, I know Commissioner Edwards truly does loves south Fulton, but would Fulton County lose any leverage with developers if the city of South Fulton forms, giving it the power to deal directly with developers and builders?

Were any arrangements for higher density or rezoning made between existing south Fulton cities and developers who felt they might not get what they wanted if forced to deal with the new cities?

And why were the new north cities immediately provided with $150,000 each from the state supplemental budget to finance a business plan while the new south cities have yet to receive a penny?

These are only a few of the questions that have arisen. And if the answers are plainly evident, why is it that virtually no citizen of south Fulton can answer them? Maybe it’s like Gen. William T. Sherman once said, “The truth is not always palatable and should not always be told.” But this tale of exclusion of two new south Fulton cities will eventually be told. For the time being, maybe the rest of the story is like Winston Churchill said, “It’s a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.”

login to post comments | Ben Nelms's blog