Four years after cityhood fight, Stockbridge seeks to expand borders

Some Henry County residents may vote in November on whether to become part of the city of Stockbridge. (Photo by Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Combined ShapeCaption
Some Henry County residents may vote in November on whether to become part of the city of Stockbridge. (Photo by Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Miguel Martinez for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Four years after defeating a secession effort that could have cut its population by a third, Stockbridge may soon have more residents than ever.

The state Legislature last week approved a bill that would allow the city of 30,000 to hold a referendum to ask residents of unincorporated Henry County if they want to become part of Stockbridge. If voters say yes, the Henry city will add another 6,700 residents.

“I’m happy about it,” Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford said about the potential referendum. “But it’s up to the citizens.”

The legislation — Senate Bill 612 — still needs Gov. Brian Kemp’s signature to become law. But if he signs it, it will put in motion a change of fortunes for Stockbridge, which four years ago almost lost 9,000 residents and half of its businesses to a secession attempt.

Residents of Eagles Landing, a well-heeled golfing community on the southern end of Stockbridge, sought to secede from the city in 2018 because they said the city failed to provide city parks or senior centers in their community. They also said Stockbridge had not done enough to improve economic development, including bringing restaurants and retail to their south metro area.

Stockbridge fought back with lawsuits, protests at the state Capitol and with community information meetings in front of anyone who would listen. City leaders also warned that the Eagles Landing plan included de-annexing parts of Stockbridge, a move that, if successful, could be mimicked by communities such as Buckhead. New cities in Georgia are generally created by cobbling together unincorporated parts of a county.

Voters rejected the Eagles Landing cityhood effort.

Sen. Emanuel Jones, D-Decatur, a co-sponsor of SB 612, said the legislation helps Stockbridge fill in gaps in its map. The city has long had a coverage problem where one block of residences is in Stockbridge, the next is in Henry County, and the next is in the city again.

It also will allow Stockbridge to be broken up into districts, he said. City Councilmembers currently are all at-large.

Not everyone is happy about how the legislation was handled. Brett Mauldin, who is running against the bill’s other co-sponsor, Sen. Brian Strickland, R-McDonough, said Henry County residents should have been given a chance to give their feedback before the bill was introduced.

“Before this issue was presented during the legislative session, it would have been beneficial to hold a town hall with the residents directly impacted — getting their input on the situation,” Mauldin said in an email. “If there were support for the expansion, moving forward would make sense. If there were a lack of support, local representatives would have known not to move forward with this particular issue.”

Strickland amended the bill just days before it was passed unanimously by the Senate. The amendment reduced the number of new residents — originally about 23,000 — by dropping some areas because of community feedback, Strickland said. Those areas included the Eagles Landing Country Club and property owners along Jodeco, Brannan and Campground roads.

“There was a lot of pushback in the areas south and east of the city,” Strickland said. “People really wanted more time to hear from the city and discuss it before that was considered.”

Combined ShapeCaption
The city of Stockbridge would grow by about 6,700 residents if voters approve annexation of the areas in blue on this map.

Credit: Georgia General Assembly

The city of Stockbridge would grow by about 6,700 residents if voters approve annexation of the areas in blue on this map.

Credit: Georgia General Assembly

Combined ShapeCaption
The city of Stockbridge would grow by about 6,700 residents if voters approve annexation of the areas in blue on this map.

Credit: Georgia General Assembly

Credit: Georgia General Assembly