Norcross delays, reconsiders annexation plan

Norcross has tabled plans to revive a controversial annexation following confusion among council members about the scope and timing of the move.

The original annexation plan failed to pass the state Legislature in 2019, but would have nearly doubled the size of Norcross by adding 3 square miles and 6,000 residents. The plan was opposed by Gwinnett County officials and ultimately failed to pass the Senate.

Councilors ultimately discussed a smaller annexation plan, which would add less than 1 square mile of unincorporated Gwinnett County land near Jimmy Carter Boulevard and Buford Highway to Norcross’ city limits.

In an interview with the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Mayor Craig Newton said city officials were considering alternative plans for annexation, but wanted to move forward with the original plan from years ago. But council members couldn’t agree, with most leaning toward a new plan, and called for further analysis of the proposal.

The 5-member council voted unanimously Wednesday night to take up the issue later this summer.

The original annexation plan would capture 3 square miles of land, stretching from Jimmy Carter Boulevard all the way to the DeKalb County line, and bring in hundreds of businesses under the jurisdiction of Norcross. It faced objections from Gwinnett County officials in 2019, with former Chairwoman Charlotte Nash stressing the need for a more comprehensive look at the effects of annexation.

In the hopes of avoiding objections this time around, councilmembers Andrew Hixson and Bruce Gaynor met with county officials and councilors from neighboring Peachtree Corners to address their concerns. Hixson said the fresh faces on the county’s Board of Commissioners seemed willing to help Norcross work toward the annexation.

The new annexation plan discussed Wednesday would add far fewer residents to the city, Newton said, adding it’s difficult to estimate the population affected because most live in apartments or extended-stay motels. He estimates the smaller annexation plan would add fewer than 500 residents to the city, while Gaynor estimates it would add anywhere from 900 to 1,500 residents.

Councilmember Arlene Beckles said she lacked details about the annexation plan and that residents had not been polled about their desire to be brought into the city. She questioned why the council chose to approach the annexation “so late in the game,” by trying to send a resolution to the state Legislature with little time left in this year’s session.

Hixson said it had taken longer than expected to coordinate the proposal with Gwinnett and Peachtree Corners officials.

Sophie Gibson, a Norcross resident, said she supports the original annexation plan proposed two years ago. She said the smaller annexation plan largely excludes residential properties and could send a message that the city only wants to capture new businesses and not residents, a sentiment with which Newton agrees.

Norcross officials unanimously agree the city needs to expand its limits, but the council members are still at a crossroads for how much it wants to expand at once, warranting further deliberation, Newton said.

“It appears that the wisdom of going one step at a time is greater than going for the full elephant,” Gaynor said. “The old saying, ‘You eat an elephant one bite at a time, not all at once’ —this gives us the opportunity to eat the elephant one bite at a time.”

Newton and other city officials believe an annexation would allow Norcross to tackle high crime rates in the area by Jimmy Carter Boulevard by dispatching its own police officers. It would also open new economic development opportunities to Norcross, given the city is currently landlocked and running out of room to expand.

If the state Legislature passes an annexation bill in the future, residents who would be brought into the city limits would have the final say by voting in a referendum.