Saturday, December 31, 2011

DeKalb vs Brookhaven vs PCID vs Dunwoody

A recent article in the Dunwoody Crier discussed the issue of the expansion of Dunwoody.  In question is some land InsideThePerimeter (ITP).  Imagine driving past the Perimeter Mall (where valet parking for any spot within 100 yards of an entrance is the norm) and continuing south, over '285' toward Marist and Murphy Candler Park.  Once you cross 285 you are no longer in Dunwoody city limits, but still in DeKalb County. Once across 285 on your right is Perimeter Summit, part of an area some people want Dunwoody to claim as its own.

This area is what is now referred to as unincorporated DeKalb, aka Brookhaven, to some.

Like their neighbors to the north, many in this area want a city of their own - a city to be called Brookhaven.  Like Dunwoody and other cities, Brookhaven needs a decent commercial tax base to exist.  A study has been conducted for Brookhaven, and it indicates it's possible for Brookhaven to exist as a city, without a huge tax increase for its homeowners (city studies rarely mention the financial impact of businesses because businesses don't vote with the traditional ballot in a voting booth).

The northern border for the proposed City of Brookhaven would mate with Dunwoody's southern border ('285').  Back to the article in the Dunwoody Crier - the article says a Dunwoody resident was attempting to convince city leaders that Dunwoody should expand south, picking up parts of the potential new Brookhaven.  Although no official lines or plans were floated about, the main area for acquisition would be Lake Hearn / Perimeter Summit area. If Dunwoody were to annex the business district just inside 285, it would change the financial viability of a City of Brookhaven.

The way something like this (annexation) should take place is the owner(s) of Lake Hearn / Perimeter Summit should approach the City of Dunwoody.  No surrogate should be used.  If you own property bordering Dunwoody and you are in unincorporated DeKalb, step forward and meet with our council, mayor, and city staff.  But on your way to city hall, speak to your State reps (Taylor and Jacobs and Millar).

An important part of the Brookhaven / Dunwoody discussion is our PCID  (Perimeter Community Improvement District).  the PCID is a very successful business district.  It currently resides partly in Sandy Springs, Dunwoody, and unincorporated DeKalb County.  If things play out as some expect, the PCID will be partly in the City of Brookhaven in a year or two (still part of DeKalb County, but following the rules of Brookhaven). The PCID spokesperson makes it very clear in The Crier article that they are neutral on the Brookhaven issue. The PCID was also allegedly neutral when Dunwoody was created.  But this is not the first time we've heard discussions on the non-Dunwoody part of the PCID being discussed as an annexation target for Dunwoody.  Did any council managers or city staff have discussions with the PCID prior to our recent elections?  I think there may have been some off-the-record discussions on this issue, but I doubt you'll find anyone willing to admit it now.

Why would Lake Hearn / Perimeter Summit owners want to be part of Dunwoody instead of Brookhaven or unincorporated DeKalb?  Dunwoody is an established, proven government body, one that has its own police department, and has not increased taxes (like DeKalb has done). Being part of Dunwoody makes joint ventures with other PCID companies easier as the PCID would be coordinating efforts with two governments (Dunwoody and Sandy Springs only). 

Is being part of Dunwoody more prestigious than being part of a future City of Brookhaven?  I don't think so (we're not talking about an issue like the Smyrna/Vinings/Atlanta address issue). The only thing that separates Dunwoody from Brookhaven is ten lanes of asphalt, nothing more, nothing less.

So I don't think property owners have a big issue with being in Brookhaven or Dunwoody, as long as Brookhaven would keep taxes at a current or lower rate than today's rates.

So who wants Dunwoody to annex the businesses inside 285 (the PCID area)?  DeKalb County is your answer.  What, DeKalb?  But DeKalb fought tooth and nail to stop a City of Dunwoody.  Why would they want Dunwoody to expand?  It's because DeKalb lost that Dunwoody fight; now they want to win the Brookhaven fight.  By convincing Dunwoody to annex some high-end commercial properties, it makes the City of Brookhaven less viable financially.  DeKalb County does not want a City of Brookhaven and would rather see its northern most City of Dunwoody expand than allow residents of 'Brookhaven' become a city.

How does Dunwoody benefit from annexing?  Well, that depends on how big of a bite you take.  If you simply cherry-pick the businesses just inside 285 and ignore the residential, it would be a financial boost to the city.  We could bring in close to $1 million in taxes yet provide far less than $1 million in services.  As long as the city stayed clear of the Nancy Creek infrastructure (our storm-water infrastructure in Dunwoody is a huge, hidden expense waiting to suck tax payer funds into the water basin, something we should have let DeKalb maintain, but that's another story) an annexation of select areas could be a wise financial move.  But politically, it would be an unwise decision.

There is a strong movement underway for a City of Brookhaven and Dunwoody should stay out of the way.  Let the process run its course. If voters reject the idea soundly, with no chance of a second effort, then maybe Dunwoody does an analysis (if that is the desire of the property owners in the PCID not currently in Dunwoody).

What about Dunwoody expanding all the way to Murphy Candler Park, picking up all the neighborhoods all the way to Chamblee?  What about Dunwoody going all the way to Blackburn Park?  I don't see this in Dunwoody' future.  The storm-water liability and the additional expense of servicing that entire area would most likely be revenue neutral (after adding their tax dollars).  Looking at annexation from the business viewpoint, it does not make sense to annex (bring on additional "customers") unless it is profitable.

So how will this all play out?  I expect the Brookhaven movement to be successful.  I think a homeowner in Brookhaven will pay more in taxes (percentage) than a Dunwoody homeowner, but homeowners will look deeper than the costs.  If the Brookhaven movement does fail, then having Dunwoody annex the unincorporated part of the PCID (without residential tagging along) may make sense for Dunwoody.  I don't see voters in Dunwoody wanting to add more residents to our city.