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Stockbridge goes ahead with annexation plans


By Monroe Roark
Times Correspondent 

  Stockbridge’s plans for annexation regarding the Piedmont Henry Hospital area and a portion of the Windsong subdivision are moving forward, although there was a bit of a hiccup in the process last week.

  A request made by city officials to the Henry County Board of Commissioners for a joint resolution was coolly received, and the time remaining in this year’s legislative session means that Stockbridge will likely have to proceed using other means.

  Much of the opposition expressed at last week’s county commission meeting focused on the methods used by the city to move their annexation efforts forward, such as submitting the initial request to the county’s legislative delegation without notifying county commissioners and scheduling a public meeting in a way that many residents felt showed a lack of transparency.

  Stockbridge Mayor Mark Alarcon addressed the county commissioners at their regular meeting March 19, making the city’s case for annexing 77 homes in Windsong (the other 338 homes in that neighborhood are already in the city) as well as the hospital property and a number of medical offices in the area. He said that there are essentially two unincorporated islands at those locations which need to be addressed, and state law allows the city to do so.

  Having islands can create confusion when it comes to service delivery, Alarcon said, particularly in areas such as trash pickup and wastewater treatment. Some residents in the unincorporated area are not even aware that they receive city services, he added.

  The newly-annexed areas would see a reduction in property taxes as well as business license fees, according to the mayor, and the Windsong homeowners association would save more than $2,500 per year in electrical costs from the city taking over the remainder of the street lighting in the neighborhood.

  Alarcon said that when the city sent the legislation to the Capitol, the county’s legislative delegation sent back instructions to reach out to county leaders on the issue. In addition to meeting with the legislative delegation as well as Piedmont Henry leaders, city officials held a March 1 public meeting regarding the annexation, and all relevant information was posted on the city’s web site, Alarcon said.

  Former city council member Kathy Gilbert addressed the board in her role as president of the Windsong homeowners association. She stressed that she represents all 415 homes in the neighborhood, not just the ones that could be annexed.

  She stated that she gets frequent calls from residents about the police department’s failure to enforce various issues in the community, and she must remind them that city and county rules are different in many situations.

  For instance, city ordinance prohibits parking on city streets in the incorporated portion of Windsong. The neighborhood covenants prohibit this practice throughout the neighborhood, but the homeowners do not have the authority to enforce private covenants in the county portion of the community, where motorists often park directly in front of no-parking signs, Gilbert said. This causes a public safety hazard, especially when school buses travel through the subdivision, she added.

  The city currently pays for the street lights within the city portion of Windsong, but the homeowners must pay for the county portion, which means all homeowners must subsidize the cost for a small minority that live in the unincorporated county, according to Gilbert.

  “I have talked to many residents who are in favor of being under one code of ordinances,” she said. “We want continuity of service delivery for our residents.”

  One Windsong resident disputed the assertion that most of the residents are in favor of annexation.

  “Most citizens don’t want it,” said Alisande Osuch. “Forced annexation is unpopular.”

  She cited past instances in which the city had sought residents’ approval and on two occasions more than 60 percent of the affected homeowners said no.

  After the city announced the current plan, she said a survey was conducted in Windsong and nearly everyone contacted was against it. A few said they liked the idea of annexation but not the way the city was doing it, she said.

  “I think this is the only way the city could get this done,” said Osuch.

  She went on to say that she felt the city may have created the islands in the first place and could be breaking the law by taking their current course of action. She questioned why such an important issue would be relegated to a special called meeting and not placed on the City Council’s regular meeting agenda.

“Why haven’t citizens been allowed to speak about this at council meetings?” she asked. “I am concerned about a lack of transparency and openness.”

  Former city clerk Vanessa Holliday also expressed those concerns, noting that the special called meeting was held at 5 p.m. on a Friday and notice was given almost exactly 24 hours prior, which may have satisfied the letter of the law but gave citizens very little opportunity to attend and make their voices heard.

  County officials made it clear that they had not been notified of the city’s plans before the legislation was introduced. County attorney LaTonya Wiley said that it was difficult for her to address the issue because she had not seen the legislation.

  County manager Fred Auletta said that commissioners could direct county staff to review the issue, which is usually the procedure in these cases, and provide a recommendation for a ruling at a later time.

  Commissioner Reid Bowman provided the lion’s share of the comments from the board, and his were not favorable toward the city’s plans either. He began by saying that the city’s current map “looks like a drunken sailor laid it out.”

  In response to Commissioner Brian Preston’s question about the history of some previous annexations, Bowman said that Eagle’s Landing Country Club was annexed into Stockbridge a number of years earlier so that it would be legal to pour alcohol there, and that a previous mayor and city manager owned residences in the Villages which led to annexation efforts in that development.

  But he was not happy about the current annexation plans, particularly after the county had just given up a significant amount of right-of-way to aid in the construction of the new medical facility at the corner of Eagle’s Landing Parkway and Rock Quarry Road.

  “Stockbridge creates the islands, and then they want to come in and fix them,” he said.

  The commissioners initially took no action on the proposed annexation, but later in the meeting they amended the agenda and took a vote. Bowman made a motion opposing the annexation, and he was seconded by Bruce Holmes (the entire city of Stockbridge is contained within Bowman's and Holmes' districts). The motion passed unanimously, and county staff was directed to pass that information along to the legislative delegation.

  In a separate conversation last Friday, Bowman called the city’s efforts “a sneak attack,” but he acknowledged that the Windsong situation creates confusion for police officers and he sees the benefits of having the entire subdivision either in or out of the city.

  Stockbridge city administrator David Milliron said Monday that the law allows the city to annex these islands without county approval and without legislative involvement if city leaders so choose. He said that he has already been given clear direction by the City Council to proceed with annexation, and a series of meetings should take place within the next several weeks to move the process along.

  Despite his strong comments at the meeting and afterward, Bowman conceded that he and his fellow board members could do little in the long run.

  “Legally, we can’t stop it,” he said. “We won the battle, but we will lose the war.”



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