Georgia lawmakers strike deal on LaVista Hills, Tucker

B1: Efforts by existing cities to annex more property from DeKalb County fell short.

The Georgia General Assembly signed off on the proposed cities of LaVista Hills and Tucker, putting the decision in the hands of voters during a November referendum.

The state Senate and House voted late Thursday in support of both cities before the midnight deadline on this year’s legislative session.

The votes came after negotiators struck a deal on the shared borders of the potential DeKalb County cities, ending a multiyear campaign by cityhood supporters to put the matter on the ballot.

The deal broke a stalemate between the neighboring communities, which have each been competing for residences and businesses near the eastern perimeter of I-285. The agreement put a Wal-Mart and QuikTrip into Tucker while moving about 1,500 residents near Livsey Elementary into LaVista Hills.

If Gov. Nathan Deal signs the legislation, the effort to create new cities will move from the state Capitol to residential streets, where supporters of the idea will make the argument for self-governance through a city rather than relying on DeKalb County for many government services.

“We’ll talk to neighbors, hold meetings and rally the troops to educate the community on the benefits of incorporation,” said Mary Kay Woodworth of LaVista Hills Yes. “With the nearly weekly headlines of more corruption and indictments in DeKalb, you have to be concerned about where staying unincorporated will leave you.”

Other areas also tried to persuade state lawmakers to approve cityhood initiatives, but those measures appeared to fall short. The Legislature hadn’t passed bills for cities of South Fulton, Stonecest and Greenhaven; an initiative to expand Atlanta’s city limits to the east and south also wasn’t approved.

Frank Auman of Tucker 2015 said he’s confident that residents in the 122-year-old community will vote to incorporate in a city.

“We had residents’ support before we even started. By a large margin, they wanted to be a city,” Auman said. “We’ve come a long way, and we’re going to have a great city.”

LaVista Hills, as envisioned under House Bill 520, would include 67,446 people and reach from an area outside Emory University to the eastern perimeter of I-285.

Tucker, as described by House Bill 515, would be home to 33,301 residents and extend eastward from the Perimeter, with some land inside the highway.

The two possible cities would share Northlake Mall and its surrounding retail area, with LaVista Road forming a border. Northlake Mall itself would be part of LaVista Hills, and a nearby Target and other stores would be included in Tucker.

Lawmakers also agreed to remove the Medlock and Mason Mill neighborhoods from LaVista Hills’ map after residents said they wanted to consider the possibility of being annexed into Atlanta in the future.

Both Tucker and LaVista Hills were previously in doubt because of a dispute between the House and the Senate over their territory.

The House had attempted to solidify the proposed cities’ mutual border with a map drawn and voted on in December, but the Senate changed those boundaries last month to accommodate residents in the Livsey Elementary area who preferred to be part of LaVista Hills.

LaVista Hills plans to provide city police and road services, while Tucker’s smaller city government would only provide planning and zoning, code enforcement, and parks and recreation.

“There’s no way to draw a line that makes them all happy,” said Rep. Buzz Brockway, R-Lawrenceville, who was the chairman of the House’s border subcommittee. “This is the best we could get right now.”

Sen. Fran Millar, R-Atlanta, said he believed he had an obligation to accommodate constituents who wanted to be a part of LaVista Hills.

“I’m glad it’s happening for these people,” Millar said. “It’s about self-determination and replacement of services that should cost less and be more effective under a city government.”

If voters approve of LaVista Hills and Tucker, they would become the eighth and ninth new cities in metro Atlanta since Sandy Springs incorporated in 2005.