Commercial property at center of Georgia squabble

Developed land in DeKalb County, Ga., is hard to come by.

Developed land is hard to come by in DeKalb County, Ga., home of Atlanta. This has spurred two new suburbs to engage in a legal fight over the annexation of the 100-acre Century Center office complex.

Residents of Chamblee and Brookhaven near Century Center recently voted on becoming part of Chamblee, and if successful, the commercial property would also be annexed. However, the fight doesn't stop there: The Atlanta Journal Constitution said that existing and would-be cities also are fighting over the non-residential land in the area that they rely on to generate tax dollars.

The 1.7-million-square-foot center generates about $3 million in revenue, which both Chamblee and Brookhaven want. However, Chamblee officials argue they deserve it more because they would have to add 23 police officers if the 11,000 residents near Century Center become a part of the city that now has a population of just 16,000.

"To come to the party, you have to bring a case of beer," Chamblee Mayor Eric Clarkson said to the newspaper. "You can't drink off our keg without paying."

Communities go toe to toe
But Chamblee and Brookhaven aren't alone: Seven proposals from DeKalb County communities that wish to become cities will be heard by the legislature next year. And many of them are fighting over which would-be city would get what commercial properties.

Elsewhere in the county, the community of Tucker filed for cityhood after maps showed that retail and industrial areas, such as Northland Mall and office complexes, would be zoned into Lakeside.

"Instead of fighting the county, the cities are fighting each other," said William Boone, a political science professor at Clark Atlanta University, to the Journal Constitution. "There is only so much developed land in DeKalb to go around."

The fight for such commercial real estate is understandable, because they don't provide just property taxes, but businesses also pay licensing fees and sales taxes to their city, Katherine Willoughby, a public policy professor at Georgia State University, said in an interview.

"Everyone claims the same areas as their own, and there is no conversation about what it means for the overall future of the county," interim DeKalb County CEO Lee May said. "Until we can sit down and talk, there will be some very unhealthy fights."

To avoid those fights, May said he will ask state lawmakers for a two-year moratorium for existing and would-be cities to come to mutual decisions, the Journal Constitution reported.

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