State Rep. Stephanie Benfield said this month she had enough delegation signatures to move forward with a proposal to annex a tract of unincorporated land between Decatur and Avondale Estates.
That is, until she didn’t.
After she gathered the 10 signatures from DeKalb County House delegation members required to send the issue to a vote in the General Assembly, one member – Rep. Simone Bell – pulled her name off the list, Benfield said.
Bell and fellow local House members “are getting heavy lobbying from the county not to sign. I can respect that,” Benfield said. “That’s understandable pressure.”
The delegation – a group of 20 representatives – granted permission Feb. 1 to Benfield to begin gathering signatures to push the annexation proposal to a vote before the House. The proposal would essentially bring Decatur’s borders east and Avondale Estates’ borders west along the small stretch of commercial property, making Sam’s Crossing the new border.
Decatur would absorb about 10 businesses, and Avondale Estates would take 22. Officials from both cities and Benfield have expressed frustration with the corridor’s industrial look, and Avondale Estates officials said several eyesore businesses could harm their efforts to redevelop their downtown area.
Bell did not return a Feb. 8 phone call to her Atlanta office as of press time. But after county officials, including CEO Burrell Ellis, showed up at packed delegation meeting Feb. 1, protesting the annexation, some members are backing away from the issue.
County Commissioners Lee May and Kathie Gannon said they worried the annexation effort would spark a chain of similar land grabs countywide, further depleting the county’s tax base. The city of Dunwoody’s decision to incorporate in 2008 could cost the county up to $18 million per year, according to recent projections, and county officials are keen to stanch future revenue bleeding.
Benfield said her nine other signatures included Reps. Stacey Abrams, Karla Drenner, Fran Millar, Mike Jacobs, Pat Gardner, Mary Margaret Oliver, Jim Chambers and herself. At the Feb. 1 meeting, only Millar and Benfield vocally supported the proposal. Rep. Kevin Levitas asked several probing questions indicating his concern for the rights of the business owners, but Benfield said he has agreed to sign the petition in the future if the businesses don’t clean up their sites in a reasonable amount of time.
Regardless, Benfield said she doesn’t know where that leaves her.
“I am not in a position to tell the business owners anything,” she said.
But before the Feb. 1 meeting, Benfield said she never heard county officials mention the prospect of creating a larger, comprehensive development plan for the area. When they did, Benfield said she was encouraged by the idea and would be willing to work with the county rather than pursue legislation if it could clean up the industrial corridor.
“At this point, I’d say we’re in a holding pattern,” she said.