Courts reject Stockbridge’s annexation for Jodeco-Atlanta South
By Monroe Roark
A Superior Court judge last week rejected Stockbridge’s annexation of a site slated for a major multi-use development.
The Sept. 28 ruling by Judge Wade Crumbley said that because the property in question is not contiguous to existing city land, the April vote by the Stockbridge City Council to annex the property on the southwest corner of the I-75/Jodeco Road interchange “is null, void, invalid, and of no lawful force or effect.” The city is prohibited from issuing land development permits or taking any other action as if the property were in the city.
Stockbridge officials have not commented officially on the ruling. The next City Council meeting is scheduled for Oct. 10.
Board of Commissioners Chairman Tommy Smith acknowledged that Stockbridge still has options regarding a possible appeal. “I think it is wise to allow the legal system time to play out before we consider what directions to take,” he stated.
Commissioner Blake Prince, whose district includes a portion of Stockbridge, issued a statement in response to charges on social media and in the community that he and his colleagues filed the suit because they wanted to stop the development.
“For months, the county has informed the city and the project developer that the annexation of the Jodeco-Atlanta South property was illegal. The court has now agreed that the annexation was illegal,” Prince stated. “Neither the county nor the Board of Commissioners wish to see this project killed; instead, the county’s only interest is to ensure that annexations are handled by Stockbridge properly and in accordance with Georgia law.”
Prince referred to a “back-room deal” and cited allegations he made previously about Stock-bridge offering several million dollars in public money to the developments. Prince has not cited any public rulings or documents to support this charge, which Stockbridge officials have repeatedly denied.
Commissioner Bruce Holmes, whose district also contains a portion of Stockbridge, said he was not disappointed in the judge’s decision from a legal standpoint but is not pleased with the county’s apparent attitude toward growth in general.
“I am very disappointed in the Board of Commissioners for our lack of commitment to create jobs and improve the quality of life for the citizens of this county,” Holmes stated. “This project does just that as well as improve our tax digest commercially, helping us to reduce the tax burden for every resident of the county. From a business perspective, the Jodeco project is a no-brainer. Henry County will also benefit indirectly as well.”
Stockbridge officials cited “politics and personal agendas” as the reasons for the current conflict with the county.
“It certainly comes across as disingenuous when publicly the county officials are saying they support the project, yet they continue to fight against it,” said city manager Michael Harris. “The method of annexation being proposed in this instance was no different than what had been done in previous years, with absolutely no opposition from the county.”
Harris added that the developer approached the city after two years of failed attempts with the county to advance the project.
“They just don’t want us to have the same types of amenities and development that we see in Alpharetta, Brookhaven and Atlantic Station,” said Mayor Pro Tem Anthony Ford. “The good old boy politics in Henry County is truly uncalled for in today’s current environment.”
In the ruling Crumbley addressed the issues regarding the location of the property in question, referred to as the Chen property, in detail.
“The Chen property is diagonally across the interstate highway interchange from the city boundary,” Crumbley stated. “A line drawn from the southernmost point of the city boundary perpendicular to the length of the I-75 right of way does not intersect with any boundary of the Chen property and, in fact, is a substantial distance north of the Chen property.”
The issue in its simplest form was that the city and the property owner felt the land was contiguous, while the county did not.
“The definition of the term ‘contiguous’ in Georgia’s annexation statute has evolved over the years as the General Assembly has amended the statute in response to court decisions and political considerations,” Crumbley noted. He then cited various existing rulings, including one by the Georgia Supreme Court in a case involving the city of Gainesville vs. Hall County Board of Education.”
“Based on the undisputed facts of this case, the Court concludes that the annexation of the Chen property was not authorized by law,” Crumbley said.
The judge noted Stockbridge’s view that the city solved any problems in this annexation by subsequently annexing two other parcels.
“It seems that the law allows such curative measures,” Crumbley stated. “In this case, however, the city did not show that these subsequent annexations cured the problems with the Chen annexation. In fact, it appeared that both of the subsequent annexations were invalid for the same reason the Chen annexation is invalid; that is, both depended for their validity on the annexation of the length of the I-75 right-of-way between the existing city boundary and the annexed properties.”