Battle revived over annexation of DeKalb complex

The owner of a prime piece of disputed land in DeKalb County has successfully halted being annexed into one city, in a bid to join another.

The Georgia Court of Appeals ruled last week that Chamblee cannot annex Century Center on Dec. 30, when it also grows its southern border by 11,000 people.

The court will hear arguments from complex owner Highwood Properties this spring or summer, about its bid to become part of Brookhaven instead.

The Brookhaven City Council voted in October to annex the 17-building complex into that city’s borders, to take effect Nov. 1. But early this year, the state Legislature called for an Election Day referendum for residents in that area of unincorporated DeKalb to join Chamblee — and bring Century Center with them.

The legal battle between the two appeared to end in November, after the referendum passed and Brookhaven voted to stop funding the court fight.

However, as the sole property owner, Highwood is now appealing the annexation into Chamblee vote. It argues that the referendum cannot pre-empt its desire to become part of Brookhaven.

And Brookhaven never rescinded its City Council decision to bring in the complex — keeping the issue alive in the courts.

“Both affected cities will needlessly waste resources preparing to provide services to Century Center,” unless the 100-acre complex at Clairmont Road and I-85 stays part of unincorporated DeKalb as the legal battle plays out, according to motions filed by Highwood Properties.

Company officials could not be reached Monday for comment. In the past, they had said they petitioned to join Brookhaven based on plans to further develop the site.

The battle is the first and most public over the limited pockets of development available for cities and would-be municipalities in DeKalb, who need the tax base to offset the cost of providing services to residential areas.

The Northlake area —- targeted by the three would-be cities of Briarcliff, Lakeside and Tucker —- may see the next action. The area, which includes a string of offices and shops surrounding Northlake Mall at I-285, is included as a revenue generator in the financial studies of all three potential cities.

The 17-building Century Center complex is projected to generate as much as $3 million in taxes and fees for whichever jurisdiction collects its taxes.

Chamblee had been counting on the money to pay for the 23 new police officers and other workers needed to serve the new residents in the area.

Mayor Eric Clarkson said city officials are committed to those plans, despite the fact the complex’s taxes will be sent to DeKalb County this year.

“We are moving forward to provide the services to the people in that area as of Dec. 30,” Clarkson said. “That has not changed.”

The question of whether the referendum will be void if Century Center becomes part of Brookhaven — changing the map voted on in November — is unclear and likely to be decided only in court.

The Court of Appeals is slated to hear the case in late spring or early summer. Regardless of how it rules, both sides are expected to then take the issue to the state Supreme Court for a final say.