Fulton County, Atlanta set to argue over Fulton Industrial land

Fulton County and the city of Atlanta will face off in front of the State Supreme Court Wednesday, as they argue about whether the city has the right to annex parts of an unincorporated area that has long been off-limits.

The fight over the Fulton Industrial District is one in a series of tugs-of-war over property owners and residents in the unincorporated area.

The stakes for the land are high because of the boost Fulton Industrial could give to a city's tax base — either Atlanta, or a new city that could be formed this fall.

Since 1979, Atlanta has been prohibited from annexing parts of the district. But the city filed suit last year, claiming the law that kept it from expanding its boundaries there was invalid. The lower court agreed with the city, and Fulton County is appealing that ruling.

Recently, Mayor Kasim Reed sent letters to some South Fulton property owners — including some in the Fulton Industrial District — reminding them of the city’s “open-door policy of welcoming property owners and residents who are interested in annexing into Atlanta city limits.”

That’s because in November, South Fulton residents will have the chance to vote on whether they want to become a city themselves.

And later this summer, the State Supreme Court is slated to hear arguments related to a disagreement about school system boundaries. The Atlanta Public Schools’ boundaries increase in tandem with the city limits. But the city is trying to divorce the connection, so if Atlanta adds parts of unincorporated Fulton that include Fulton County Schools, the county school system can continue to operate within the city limits and any new Atlanta residents can keep attending county schools.

The first piece to move forward related to potential annexations in the Fulton Industrial District, though a decision won’t come until later this summer. Attorneys for the city and the county both declined to comment. Spokespeople from Atlanta did not respond Tuesday to requests for comment and those from Fulton County declined to discuss the case.

In court filings, the county said the city has, for decades, “cast its longing eye on the Fulton County Industrial District,” an area it described as high-value, and therefore high tax value. The city was prohibited from annexing into the area by a local constitutional amendment. Now, the filing said, the city is challenging that amendment “in an effort to get the camel’s nose into the tent: to pave the way for City annexation of property within the FID into the City’s taxing jurisdiction.”

The city sees it differently, saying that the annexation law — which was paired with an act that kept Fulton from levying a school tax in Atlanta — was nothing but “forbidden political shenanigans.” The city is uncertain of its rights, according to its filing.

Fulton Industrial's future is complicated. The boundaries for the potential city of South Fulton will be set July 1, so there is a rush by Atlanta to annex land there before a vote is held. And the district will only be included in the new city if the local constitutional amendment that created it is repealed, or invalidated prior to the first city election, according to the legislation.

Gil Prado, the executive director for the Fulton Industrial Community Improvement District, has said his members would like to be part of the city of South Fulton.

Reed, in his letter to property owners, said “we are extending an opportunity for you to discuss the option of annexing into the City of Atlanta should you oppose being incorporated into the new City of South Fulton.”

“We’re going to let the letter speak for itself,” Atlanta spokeswoman Jenna Garland said in an email.

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