Kathryn Rice (left) is a proponent of the city of Greenhaven, which is opposed by groups like Concerned Citizens in Opposition to Greenhaven (right).

Time running out for hopeful DeKalb cities to get crucial legislative support

The clock is ticking on what could become DeKalb County’s two newest cities.

Coalitions in support of creating the cities of Greenhaven and Vista Grove have just a few more days to get legislation filed in the Georgia Legislature that would let residents vote on whether to create the new cities.

“Not one legislator has at least dropped a bill yet this year,” said Kathryn Rice, the lead advocate for the city of Greenhaven. “I would like to know … what are the significant reasons that they have for not allowing us to vote?”

Opposition has also ramped up in recent weeks, with several groups coming together and holding events to advocate against cityhood.

“It’s not viable. It’s not financially viable … Why do they keep coming back?” Claudette Leak, a leaders of Concerned Citizens in Opposition to Greenhaven, told a packed crowd at a public meeting Tuesday. Nearby, volunteers handed out yard signs and urged residents to contact their elected officials about opposing any cityhood movements.

Both proposed cities are massive geographic areas that would include a total of about 358,000 residents. Greenhaven would include the entirety of South DeKalb other than Stonecrest, while Vista Grove would fit between Tucker and Brookhaven, Chamblee and Doraville.

The proposed layout of Greenhaven. (Photo: Courtesy of Imagine Greenhaven)

Both have been the subject of earlier legislation proposing each become its own city, but neither has passed.

For an area to become a city, the state Legislature has to pass a bill allowing for a ballot referendum; any legislator in the state can sponsor the bill. For the past five years, Greenhaven has failed to get a bill passed. Last year was Vista Grove’s first attempt at legislation, which did not pass.


COVERAGE FROM 2018: 

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The deadline for the cityhood proponents is quickly approaching, because Thursday will be “Crossover Day,” — the midway point in the legislative session when a bill generally must pass at least one chamber in the General Assembly in order to have a chance at becoming law this year. Advocates for Greenhaven and Vista Grove are set to hold an event at the Capitol next week to raise awareness and put the pressure on lawmakers before they have to wait another year for cityhood legislation.

For Rice, the issue boils down to the right to vote; no matter how legislators might feel about a potential new city, they should at least give residents the ability to approve or reject it, she said.

“There is no other cityhood effort that has met all the requirements and been denied the right to vote for five years,” she said.

Vista Grove would cover the area between Tucker and Brookhaven, Doraville and Chamblee. (Photo: Courtesy of Vista Grove)

Those opposed to Greenhaven and Vista Grove, including groups like DeKalb Strong, argue that cities fragment public services, lead to higher costs for residents and aren’t economically strong.

But Andrew Flake, one of the board members for Vista Grove, said residents would benefit from more attention and increased choice over local issues. Both Vista Grove and Greenhaven claim that studies show their cities would be viable and not hike taxes.

“We have lots of representatives but no real representation for the whole area,” he said. “We have not had a seat at the table for all sorts of important conversations, especially about regional issues.”


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The cityhood movements have hired lobbyists to urge lawmakers to file a referendum bill. Both groups are focusing on the DeKalb delegation, whose members have historically been hesitant to sponsor city legislation — cityhood bills in recent years have been filed by lawmakers from outside of DeKalb.

“The people who are stopping it more than anybody are our own DeKalb legislators,” Rice said, adding that Greenhaven’s lobbyists have also had conversations with some legislators outside of DeKalb.

Flake said Vista Grove’s lobbyists, one of whom is Stonecrest Mayor Jason Lary, are “talking to as many representatives as we can.”

Leak said she’s tired of the repeated failed attempts to incorporate DeKalb. During her presentation at Tuesday’s meeting, one of the slides called Greenhaven “The Never-Ending Saga,” referencing the fact that it was not able to achieve a referendum during the last four legislative sessions. She also pointed out that a pro-Greenhaven bill was filed last year by former Senator Josh McKoon, who is from Columbus.

“Tell me how much a senator from Columbia, Georgia knows about what we need in DeKalb County,” she said.

Vista Grove has come closer to being a city. It was granted a referendum in 2015 under the name LaVista Hills, but narrowly failed on the ballot.

“The community’s ready,” Flake said. “They’re hungry for the chance to vote on it, to have input on it.”

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In other news:

VIDEO: Learn more about the current DeKalb CEO in the AJC's "5 things to know" series.
Video: Mandi Albright/The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

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