By Monroe Roark
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
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
“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
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.
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.
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.
we can’t stop it,” he said. “We won the battle, but we will lose