Commercial trucks fill Fulton Industrial Boulevard in October.
Photo: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com
Photo: Curtis Compton / ccompton@ajc.com

Will Atlanta or South Fulton get Fulton’s last unincorporated property?

The tug-of-war for Fulton Industrial Boulevard appeared to be coming to an end this spring, when members of the Georgia legislature agreed to let voters decide whether the business district should be part of the new city of South Fulton.

Then the governor stepped in.

When Gov. Nathan Deal vetoed the measure earlier this month, he guaranteed that the last unincorporated part of Fulton County would stay that way. At least for now.

In a statement, Deal said there “has been continued debate” between South Fulton and Atlanta over whose borders the district should be in. As such, he said, “the cities and property owners involved … need to first come to an agreement to determine the future” of the area.

Never mind that many thought they had, by getting the legislature to agree to a countywide referendum.

No one from Deal’s office responded to requests for additional comment about his rationale for the veto. Anne Torres, a spokeswoman for Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, said in an email that the city respects the governor’s decision, but has no further comment about the future of the district.

Atlanta has challenged a constitutional amendment that says the area cannot be annexed into any city. But a case that it took to the state supreme court came out without a decision: the court declined to rule in the case, saying it could not decide whether Atlanta could annex land when no annexation had been proposed.

Fulton Industrial is about 7.5 square miles of mostly industrial space that brings between $5 million and $6 million in tax revenue to Fulton County each year. It has a workforce of more than 20,000 people and about 46 million square feet of industrial space according to Rep. Roger Bruce, who was a driving force behind South Fulton.

Bruce said he had “no insight” into why Deal vetoed the measure, which would have put the entire industrial area into the new city, if voters approved the referendum. He has no plans to negotiate with anyone in Atlanta.

“I don’t know what he’s doing,” Bruce said of the governor. “The logical conclusion is that somebody in Atlanta asked him to do that.”

Bruce and others said they were surprised by the veto. Gil Prado, the executive director of the Boulevard Community Improvement District, said he expected voters would be able to decide what happens to the area. And David Seem, the chief financial officer of retail company Miller Zell, said other businesses expected the decision to be on the ballot in November.

“It doesn’t seem fair not to give the people a choice,” Seem said.

Miller Zell is in the new city, but Chuck MacKarvish’s Tie Down Engineering is not. MacKarvish said he moved his business to Fulton Industrial from Miami because he was guaranteed by state law that the area would never be part of a city. Now, he said, he wouldn’t mind being part of South Fulton. But he doesn’t want to join Atlanta.

Large cities have tougher business environments with more regulations, MacKarvish said. And in South Fulton, he would be a big fish in a little pond.

“I haven’t talked to anybody who wants to be part of the city of Atlanta,” MacKarvish said.

Neither has Bill Edwards, the new mayor of South Fulton.

“There’s all this talk about, some people want to go to Atlanta,” Edwards said. “Where they at? We ain’t found them. Name them. We don’t know who they are.”

Edwards said he sees the veto as bittersweet. On one hand, not having the tax revenue from the district is a setback — but the new city had created its plans without counting on the income. Now, he said, South Fulton will have more time to plan a countywide campaign to convince residents to vote in favor of putting the district in South Fulton. Hopefully, Edwards said, Atlanta’s new mayor won’t want the area as much as Reed seems to.

In the meantime, Fulton County plans to contract with the new city of South Fulton to provide police, planning and zoning and other services to the district.

“It’s unfortunate the governor chose to veto it,” Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said. “His reasoning is perplexing. It’s not consistent with what the will of the people would have been.”

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