‘Over my dead body’ Stockbridge leaders face new de-annexation fight

Two months after defeating a cityhood effort by residents of Eagles Landing, Stockbridge is facing another de-annexation battle with Henry County over a mixed-use development. BILL TORPY/AJC
Two months after defeating a cityhood effort by residents of Eagles Landing, Stockbridge is facing another de-annexation battle with Henry County over a mixed-use development. BILL TORPY/AJC

After winning a bruising cityhood battle last year with residents of Eagle's Landing, Stockbridge leaders now face a new foe trying to take away land in the city.

The Henry County Commission last week voted on a proposal to build an arena and conference center on a portion of a long-delayed, 160-plus acre mixed-use development in Stockbridge. To make that happen, Stockbridge would have to de-annex the land so the county could take control.

“Over my dead body, you’re not going to get it,” Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford told the commission. “So this is a moot point.

“De-annexing is a bad thing, especially after our last year,” he said.

The debate was sparked after owners of the mixed-used development — dubbed Jodeco Atlanta South — asked commissioners for help because potential anchors, including retailer Costco, sporting gear giant Cabela's and Top Golf, all bailed on the project. Announced four years ago, the $300 million development was supposed to include retail, apartments and single family homes, restaurants, an amphitheatre and wetland preserve.

“This project has been nothing but a Facebook saga,” Commissioner Dee Clemmons told the commission Tuesday, pushing back on those criticizing the county proposal. “Retail is coming, Cabela’s is coming, Top Golf is coming. Ain’t nothing coming. So the developers have reached out to the county, reached out to me as the district commissioner and said, ‘We need an anchor.’”

“The citizens of this county are tired of Jodeco being a coming development,” she said. “Let’s make this happen.”

But the proposal has been especially vexing to Stockbridge leaders. They say the county knew the city had to put the mixed-use project on the back burner as they spent all of 2018 fighting efforts by residents of Eagle’s Landing, a well-heeled community on the city’s south end, from becoming their own town by taking half of Stockbridge. One of the central themes of that debate was the lack of high-end development in the southside community.

That battle included a fight in the Georgia Legislature in the first half of last year followed by months of unsuccessful court challenges to keep the cityhood question off the Nov. 6 ballot. The referendum was eventually placed on the ballot but was defeated by voters.

City officials, in some ways, viewed last year’s battle as an existential threat to the future of Stockbridge. That made the way the county handled the new arena/conference center proposal troublesome to city officials. No city leaders knew about the plan until it appeared on the county commission’s agenda for last Tuesday’s meeting.

“We haven’t even had a chance to catch our breath yet,” said Camilla Moore, director of Stockbridge’s community development department. “The dust hasn’t even settled yet.”

Others commissioners said they had not had any contact with Stockbridge about the proposal and wondered if they should postpone any action until the two government bodies could meet. The city would have to approve before the county proposal could move forward.

“We haven’t met with the city of Stockbridge,” said Commissioner Johnny Wilson said. “We don’t know what the city of Stockbridge’s plans are for the property.

Residents said they too were frustrated.

"Why is that so many on this board were silent when the proponents of the city of Eagle's Landing attempted to take half the city (of Stockbridge)," said resident Arthur Thomas Christian. "Here we have it, … another attempt to take Stockbridge property."

Commissioner Bruce Holmes said the issue is not as big as others have made it. Building a convention center and arena on the property would be a win for the city because of the commercial and residential development it would attract. He also said it was unfair to conflate the county’s proposal with the battle Stockbridge waged last year.

“That’s apples and oranges,” he said. “We’re not trying to take away businesses or residents from them. This is empty land that we’re trying to help develop to help the city.”