By Eliot M. Arnovitz, Brice Ladson and John Ladson
The City of Decatur again has faced widespread opposition from residents of nearby unincorporated DeKalb to annex their properties into the City of Decatur. This is convenient for the city, since it doesn’t want to add more children to an overcrowded school system, and because annexing residential properties can present a net loss for city coffers.
The city wants a net gain, so its leadership unveiled a scheme last week that even big fans of Decatur have denounced in public forums as unbridled government overreach.
At the recommendation of the city manager, commissioners have now sharpened their knives and carved out mostly commercial properties for annexation. Because so few residential properties are left in these choice parcels, the rights of those involved to have any say in the matter are flatly eliminated.
We are specifically concerned about commercial properties at the four corners of North Decatur and Clairmont roads. Together, we have owned two of the sites for as long as 40 years or more, and the two other centers are owned by families and individuals who have been long-time owners of their centers, as well. These properties are fully built-out, have experienced very little crime, and have well served the needs of the community for decades.
As a gateway to the City of Decatur, these commercial sites have never been the subject of concern by the community at large. If you look at the proposed annexation map, it’s obvious that our properties are targets of annexation strictly for their devised financial contributions to the city.
We and the tenants of the properties come together to ask you, as residents of the City of Decatur or unincorporated DeKalb County, to voice your opposition to this annexation since we have no say.
Most of the tenants in these four shopping centers are local merchants. They live and work in the area. Theirs are not businesses owned by national companies who have no interest in preserving the nature of North Decatur as a place to live, work, learn and play.
As local family owners, we have nurtured our properties and tenants since we built or bought the properties. We have kept rents as low as possible and tenants have had reasonably priced DeKalb County services that have provided a standard of fire protection that allows for low insurance rates. Despite one of the worst economic downturns in the history of our country, our shopping centers have seen relatively little tenant loss or turnover. In fact, our turnover might be less than that of downtown Decatur’s commercial district; certainly, it is no greater.
Why does the City of Decatur want to annex these properties, and what are they giving us or our tenants in return? We keep hearing that the City of Decatur has a well-managed budget, but the fact is that it wants our tax dollars and it can simply reach for them. Annexing our properties will give them more budget dollars with very few expenses. Our businesses don't send children to school, do not use parks, and do not add needs to the community.
However, with this move, we face tax increases of more than 30 percent and a host of greater red tape from another governing body. Meanwhile, businesses outside the city limits will enjoy a competitive advantage over our tenants because their cost of doing business will be significantly lower.
Obviously, what we fear is that our tenants might close or move to a more tax-friendly area. We might not have a choice but to sell these properties to national operators not invested in the area. Rents will necessarily rise and these centers could look like other mass-marketed properties or sit empty. You, our local shoppers, will be disenfranchised and face higher prices for goods and services, or will be without the goods and services you currently enjoy.
Equally frustrating is the fact that the City of Decatur just approved new zoning ordinances that those of us who own these properties have not reviewed or had an opportunity to comment on, despite the fact that our properties will immediately come under those regulations if annexed.
It’s clear. This proposed annexation only benefits the City of Decatur, serves no public good, and represents added cost for the owners and tenants at the corners of North Decatur and Clairmont roads, costs that will result in problems that are always associated with rising real estate costs.
We hope you’ll help us by voicing your opposition to the city’s proposal at the City Commission meeting in City Hall at 7:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.