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House Boundary Committee Says, "Bah, Humbug" to City Feasibility Reports


The Grinch stole the gifts from the
Whos in Whoville because his heart
was two sizes too small.
Buzz Brockway chaired
the committee that
has divided Central DeKalb,
giving some of Tucker's valuable
property to a proposed community
that can't even  decide on
what to call themselves.
This time last year, Santa delivered a feasibility report to the Tucker 2014 team, headed by then-President Sonja Subzuski who has apparently stepped down.  Now speaking for Tucker 2015, a new group, is a combination of  people without a clearly named leader.  

This year, the AJC reports that Rep. Buzz Brockway, who led a committee on boundaries between Tucker and a proposed Lavista Hills group, says "I wish I was Santa Claus, and I wish I could give everyone what they want, but as you all know that’s not possible.  I hope that this map allows both groups to move forward, understanding that they didn't get everything they wanted.”

That statement isn't necessarily true.  Smoke Rise got what it wanted.  They prevented Stone Mountain from being able to annex their neighborhood.  As downtown Tucker business owners, they prevented the Northlake shopping district from being the economic engine of a city of Tucker, thus allowing a future city council to lead more discussions about Main Street.  Self-preservation is working for them, but will it work for the rest of us?

The maps drawn for Tucker and Lakeside have also been noted to include an exception for Brookhaven to potentially annex a portion of land on the LaVista Hills map.  But, the committee did not comment about the Stone Mountain proposal to annex the Stone Mountain CID, taking that commercial away from the Tucker map.

If the Stone Mountain proposal goes forward, then what does Smoke Rise bring to the table? Residents of Tucker can only speculate because we don't have access to the actual numbers in the feasibility reports.  We would essentially have to fund a new one, even after funding a 2006 zip code assessment that said we were feasible and a 2012 study that said we were barely feasible once all the residential of Smoke Rise was added and after the  Northlake mall property was included.  That left a tiny overage of $3 million which isn't even enough to put a roof on Livsey Elementary, a broken school board promise from SPLOST IV.

Santa delivers feasibility report in 2013 to Michelle Penkava,
Sonja Subzuski and Frank Auman.
So, what happens when you incorporate and then immediately realize that you don't have enough money to fund  the things you thought you could?   That has not happened, yet, in previous cities, but those places have average property values about three times what we have in Tucker and they have already raised taxes.  Those residents  have about three times the average household income, too.  

And, Tucker has one more nuance to consider:  we have a higher than average retiree population, which means we are very much a community "in transition."  What we are transitioning to will be left in the hands of a future city council of unknown, yet to be elected leaders, assuming that a city referendum is passed here. What makes this particular facet of Tucker so important is that before the discussions of our wanting "self rule" or government "closer to the people," is that we have had very few people from our own community actually step up to run for any elected office in the past decade.  It's great to want things in theory.  It's like being a child and  hoping Santa will bring you everything you have ever wanted.

But, what happens when Santa can't deliver?  What happens when  the childish aspirations of some school leaders and some "Young Republicans" don't match the reality of what Tucker can actually do with Tucker's current economic circumstances and the quiet  surrender of our most valuable property, in our own zip code, to the neighboring proposed city?

Have you driven through the "Lavista Hills" area (near Lakeside  High School) lately?  There is a noticeable difference compared to how it looked just 12 short months ago.  While Tucker has been mostly unchanged, this area inside the perimeter has undergone a facelift of sorts.  They have had major roads paved, and even some interior residential streets paved as well.  And, they accomplished this on the countywide taxpayer dime, not leaving these things to their "city" to fund for themselves.  They have managed to get everything they wanted without incorporating or increasing taxes.

So, why is Tucker moving ahead to form a city that doesn't look like the Tucker that we know today?  Who is really in charge of our future and what will they be asking us to do next?  Fund another feasibility study?  Vote  yes without ever showing us a charter document?  Will they expect us to step up to these city council seats and then blame us when there is not enough money to fund the things that they promised us we could do?

According to the AJC:

The map gives Northlake Mall to LaVista Hills and the Northlake Festival Shopping Center, across the street, to Tucker. LaVista Road would be the dividing line between the two cities. Residents living near Spaghetti Junction would become part of LaVista Hills.
Leaders of both cityhood movements said they could live with the map and would push for the Legislature to sign off on it. Then residents in the affected areas would vote on whether to incorporate.

Mary Kay Woodworth, the co-chairwoman of LaVista Hills Yes, wants to move ahead with incorporation but said dividing the Northlake Mall retail area would cause problems for policing and land use planning.

“It splits the business community,” she said. “We’re going to see how we can make it work.”

Michelle Penkava of Tucker 2015 said the compromise map provides the area with a path toward cityhood after squabbles over borders scuttled proposals in the Legislature earlier this year.

“Our hearts are with those who are rejoicing and those who are being pulled out of their community,” Penkava said. “We’re looking forward to moving ahead.”
Both potential cities will cover about 20 square miles, but LaVista Hills would include nearly twice as many residents as Tucker.

LaVista Hills would have a population of 64,654 people, and Tucker would be home to 34,742 residents.

Marjorie Snook, who lives near Northlake Mall and is forming a group to oppose incorporation, said cityhood won’t solve DeKalb’s corruption problems. Former DeKalb Commissioner Elaine Boyer resigned in August after pleading guilty to federal fraud charges, and suspended DeKalb CEO Burrell Ellis faces charges that he extorted campaign contributions from county contractors.

“These new cities just add a new group of politicians to the mix. Adding more politicians in response to corruption is ridiculous,” said Snook, whose home is within LaVista Hills’ map. “Most of the people inside the perimeter don’t want a city of LaVista Hills.”

As we sit down with our families this holiday season and think of all we have to be thankful for and all that we have been through as a community, we  hope the residents in Tucker are considering others outside of our community, too.  Because the big picture is getting lost as we talk about cities.  That big picture is what will happen to the rest of our county?  And, are we okay with being partially to  blame when the North / South and Rich / Poor and Black / White divides grow ever more apparent?  Will we be okay to cross that bridge, knowing that we may never be able to go back?

The lawmaker who voted against the map, Rep. Howard Mosby, D-Atlanta, said he a subcommittee shouldn’t have decided where communities begin and end.

“We’re trying to solve these issues with a hammer rather than letting the communities work it out,” Mosby said.

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