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19 December 2014

Fulton County Objects to Citizen-Led Annexation Efforts in Chattahoochee Hills

(Fulton County Commissioners objected to the proposed annexation of approximately 4,920 acres [shown above] into the City of Chattahoochee Hills.)

Under Georgia law, there are three ways for citizens and private land owners to annex into an existing city -- the 100% method, the 60% method, and the resolution and referendum method.

All three methods require the people's consent in order for the annexation to move forward.

Within the last sixty days, the people made it abundantly clear they want their land in the City of Chattahoochee Hills.
"I know Chattahoochee Hills. You don't have a proper fire department. We're talking one fire station, and we're talking about two police cars."

-Fulton County Commissioner Bill Edwards
The people's first petition to join Chattahoochee Hills was filed, 30 September 2014. 9,400 acres of land were at stake under this petition. State law required 60% of landowners and 60% of registered voters to sign a petition requesting annexation by the city. Chattahoochee Hills City Planner Mike Morton, who processed the people's annexation petition, said 60% of the landowners had signed the document. But 60% of the registered voters did not. The petition was eighty voters short of 60%.

While disappointing to the citizens who organized the annexation petition drive, the news that they were eighty voters short did not deter those wanting to join the City of Chattahoochee Hills.

The people once again began collecting signatures on their annexation petition. The area to be annexed was about half of the land mass identified in the 30 September petition, coming in at 4,920 acres. On 24 November 2014, citizens and land owners submitted their second annexation petition to the City of Chattahoochee Hills.

This time, the people hit their mark.

In a memo to the Chattahoochee Hills City Council, obtained by Georgia Unfiltered, City Planner Mike Morton certified that 60% of landowners and 60% of registered voters agreed to take 4,920 acres into the corporate limits of the City of Chattahoochee Hills.

Chattahoochee Hills Annexation Memo

At its 16 December 2014 meeting, the Chattahoochee Hills Planning Commission approved the people's annexation petition, sending it to the City Council for a final vote.

Chattahoochee Hills notified Fulton County of their intent to annex the 4,920 acres.

Fulton County Commissioners, at their 17 December 2014 meeting, voted to object to the Chattahoochee Hills annexation. Commissioners John Eaves, Bill Edwards, Liz Hausmann, and Joan Garner all cast votes in favor of the objection. Commissioners Emma Darnell, Tom Lowe, and Robb Pitts did not vote.

Outgoing Commissioner Bill Edwards, a Democrat whose district includes the City of Chattahoochee Hills, voiced the loudest opposition to the citizen-led annexation efforts.

"I will not put people who I govern right now into harm's way in a city that cannot deliver them the appropriate services," Edwards said at the meeting. "I know Chattahoochee Hills. You don't have a proper fire department. We're talking one fire station, and we're talking about two police cars.

"We must look at the ability of the city to deliver the service," Edwards continued.

Fulton County's objection does not halt the annexation, however. The proposal now goes before a five-member arbitration panel to determine if Fulton County's objection is valid, and to mediate any differences between the county and Chattahoochee Hills.

According to the Arbitration Handbook published by the Association of County Commissioners of Georgia (ACCG) and the Georgia Municipal Association, the arbitration panel "is not authorized to approve or deny any particular annexation proposal, but may or may not choose to attach zoning, land use or density conditions to the property in question for one year."

Chattahoochee Hills Mayor Tom Reed told Georgia Unfiltered the city will not be changing any of the existing zoning for the 4,920 acres in question; and that he expects the annexation to take place.

"We feel comfortable in our position," Reed said.