Last semester I wrote an article about a proposed city, Greenhaven, Georgia. I had only known about the city for about four months, so the idea of the second largest city in Georgia was fairly new to me and I was quite fond of the idea.
However, after receiving word from numerous members of opposition groups via email and LinkedIn communication, and even mention of my article in a recent post of theirs, I came to the conclusion that it would be in my best interest to gain a full perspective of the thoughts of Greenhaven, Georgia and to fully understand the concerns of the residents who opposed it.
What I discovered after the interview left me in the middle ground on my position with the Imagine Greenhaven movement, to say the least.
Image via Neighbors Against Greenhaven
On April 20, 2019, I sat down with three members of the Opposition Against Greenhaven. Kevin Polite, co-founder and member of Neighbors Against Greenhaven (NAG), Claudette Leak, spokesperson of Concerned Citizens In Opposition to Greenhaven (CCIOTG), and Trin Intra, also co-founder of NAG.
According to Mr. Polite, CCIOTG and NAG started in 2015. They were initially working separately. NAG started as a Facebook page of residents against Greenhaven and CCIOTG started with a resolution by Spring Valley Civic Association members who just didn’t want the formation of the city and got together to see what they could do about it. NAG was more social media savvy, while CCIOTG was focused on dealing with legislators, meeting with community groups, etc. This year they combined forces and decided to work together. They also included DeKalb Strong, an opposition group in DeKalb County fighting Vista Grove. “One of the key similarities that you will find with the opposition groups is that we’re grassroots,” says Leak. There are 12 members composed of CCIOTG. They bring info to homeowner associations and use their own resources to educate the community.
A huge concern and issue for Imagine Greenhaven, I discovered, is the lack of transparency.
Imagine Greenhaven takes outside donations in order to operate and no one knows where the money comes from, claims Leak. The opposition groups, on the other hand, use their own funds to support its efforts and campaign against the movement. They also meet in the homes of one of their members while Imagine Greenhaven meets in a rented space. Intra adds, “We don’t have $20,000 for a feasibility study or to hire lobbyist–it all comes out of our pockets.”
There is money interest from the Imagine Greenhaven movement, claims Leak. “We have documented a chart of the money interested and how it influences the cityhood effort. It’s all about the money.” As shown below, and mentioned by Leak.
Image courtesy of CCIOTG.
The following are connected groups supporting the creation of Greenhaven. Kathryn Rice is the common denominator throughout. Dr. Rice is the chair of the Imagine Greenhaven movement.
Image courtesy of CCIOTG.
Another concern for citizens against Greenhaven is the increase in taxes for the citizens. Cities charge franchise fees. “They call them ‘franchise fees’ so that they don’t have to call them taxes, which is still going to be paid by the citizen regardless,” says Polite, and as indicated in the graphic below. It happened in Stonecrest, where citizens were said to have reported a 4% increase in their utility bills after Stonecrest negotiated a 4% franchise fee with a utility company.
Image courtesy of CCIOTG.
The biggest issue is, “We never asked to become part of a city,” says Leak.
According to Leak, there are three technical requirements of the state of Georgia for forming a city: a feasibility study, three services, and to get a legislator to sponsor the bill.
The Feasibility Study
In 2014, the Carl Vinson Institute of the University of Georgia conducted a feasibility study for Greenhaven. In the study, and as stated in my previous article, it was concluded that Greenhaven would have a revenue surplus of $27 million dollars in its first year of implementation. It sounded promising back in 2014, though that’s also a concern now.
The feasibility study is five years old. The data within it is now outdated and does not reflect current conditions. Once the East Lake Golf Course, one of the commercial centers in the study, realized that they were a part of the proposed city, they annexed into the city of Atlanta. This property was a huge chunk of the revenue for proposed Greenhaven. The SPLOST money was also a part of the study. The DeKalb County attorney ruled that any city or annexed area in existence at that time were eligible for SPLOST. Any city created after that is not eligible for SPLOST, inclusive of Greenhaven. It is still included on the Imagine Greenhaven website that they would be receiving the money, however.
“The SPLOST money has already been allocated to those existing cities. They will not get it, even though they keep on insisting that they will,” says Leak.
The three services that the city of Greenhaven would offer include code enforcement, zoning and planning, and recreation. “Since Greenhaven would only be offering three services,” says Leak, “they will either have to go to DeKalb County government and initiate an agreement to pay for additional services or they will hire private contractors and pay services not offered by the city. Either way, there is a cost associated with that. And it is not mentioned in [the feasibility study].” The county already has these kind of agreements with the cities because no city has all the services required for municipalities under Georgia state law counties are required to offer (law enforcement, fire protection and fire safety, road and street construction or maintenance, solid waste management, water supply or distribution or both, wastewater treatment, stormwater collection and disposal, electric or gas utility service, enforcement of building, housing, plumbing, and electrical codes and other similar codes, planning and zoning, and recreational facilities) within their municipalities.
The strong opposition for Greenhaven is starting to expand more. Going into the fifth year of attempting to be implemented as a city, this was the first year that Greenhaven did not receive a sponsor from the Georgia State Legislator. The sponsors they’ve had in the past have had no ties to the county. “They looked to be sponsored by white male Republicans to represent a mostly minority county. And that’s something I just don’t understand,” says Intra. DeKalb County has democratic elected representatives and has a mostly minority population. Sourcing out to other places for support has been a long-standing concern for residents.
“In the last two years, the Georgia State legislator approved two primarily African American cities–Stonecrest being one of them and the other South Fulton. Now they want a city that’s six times bigger than Dunwoody, Brookhaven, and Stonecrest, (all of which have a population of over 50,000),” says Leak. According to Leak, the reason for creating a city so large was to make it appear financially feasible. “They would be three times bigger than South Fulton. So when they talk about their right to vote being suppressed, that’s a diversion. That’s a diversion to get their approvals from the Georgia State legislator. My vote was suppressed because no one asked if I wanted my property included in the first place.” she argues.
Image via AJC
Despite the differences between the opposition and proposition groups, they do share a commonality; they all want to see the development of South DeKalb. “The difference is, when talking about development for South DeKalb, is that we’re coming from the bottom up while they are attempting to go from the top down,” says Intra. There are ongoing problems going on in DeKalb and being involved in the community, the group infers, is the way for the development of DeKalb–participating in PTA’s and going to Homeowner Association group meetings are ways to start; not forming a new city.
Lastly, they are tired of the matter. It has been five years since the initial news of the possible implementation and it is clear that the majority of citizens don’t want it. Intra adds, “South DeKalb County is one of the few counties left in the metro Atlanta area that is affordable to working-class families,” says Intra. “I want to make sure that South DeKalb is still a place that is affordable when my children grow up.” There are many elderly people in the county as well as people who have low- and middle-incomes. Citizens want the county to stay affordable so that they can keep living here.
As a resident and native of DeKalb County, Georgia, I would love to see the county grow economically and expand on the already great place that it is. Though, I do think it is important to listen to what people want. Citizens want to stay unincorporated in DeKalb. I don’t think continuously pushing an idea on a community is advisable, especially if you want a sense of community from the citizens. Going forward, I will most likely continue to question the viability and integrity of the Imagine Greenhaven movement.