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Large-scale annexations are never simple

POSTED: November 30, 2008 1:00 a.m.

Gainesville's recent decision to abandon its attempt to annex unincorporated islands into the city illustrates again the reluctance of many outside-city interests to become part of a city.

Over the years annexation of properties has been a contentious issue, efforts to bring in large chunks of land not always successful. Perhaps it's harder today because county services to unincorporated areas have improved to an extent that people perceive not so much advantage.

For many years, Gainesville's city limits was a perfect round circle about a mile radius from the downtown square. Attempts to expand it in the 1940s and '50s fell short, and the city began to grow piecemeal, a property or two at a time at owners' request, creating many of the outside islands the city recently wanted to annex.

It became easier when cities were allowed to annex road rights-of-way, then take in abutting properties if owners agreed. Many did because they wanted lower water and fire insurance rates and sewer service.

Immediately after World War II, behind Mayor Frank DeLong Gainesville launched a campaign to expand city boundaries that had remained essentially the same circle since the late 1800s. The city's population at the time was just more than 10,000, ranking 18th among other cities in the state. The city commission, which it was called at the time, touted lower insurance and water rates, improved city services such as garbage pickup among numerous other advantages of city living. There was no county fire department at the time.

Gainesville listed annual costs of services inside its limits as $127 compared to unincorporated Hall County's $218. Even Atlanta Mayor W.B. Hartsfield weighed in on the issue, urging citizens to approve annexation.

But wholesale annexation didn't occur then, nor did it seven years later when another massive effort lost.

As 1952 began, city officials joined with Jaycees and other civic leaders to try again to bring in a large area of unincorporated properties, mostly north of the existing boundary. It included the old golf course in the area of today's Longwood and Wilshire Trails parks, Riverside Drive to the American Legion, except for Riverside Military Academy, part of Longstreet Hills that wasn't in the city and areas out Thompson Bridge Road and Cleveland Road.

The Jaycees surveyed property owners and residents of the affected area, and city leaders believed they were receptive to being annexed. A referendum on the issue would allow those living or owning land in the area to decide whether they wanted to become part of Gainesville.

The Gainesville News supported annexation, commenting that the city's expansion was inevitable, and it might as well come now rather than later. The proposal would expand the city's population by about 3,000. Some of those who supported annexation were hoping the city would pave dirt roads that ran in front of their properties.

If affected citizens voted to come in, then existing Gainesville residents would vote on whether to accept them into the city.

Never mind. Despite considerable support from outside the city, the issue failed by 18 votes. Of 730 residents eligible to vote, 708 cast ballots, 345 favoring annexation, 363 opposed.

Except for longtime residents, it might be hard to imagine that one of the primary concerns at that time was property owners having to give up their chicken houses or hog pens if they came into the city.

Mayor A.D. Wright tried to assure them that they would be grandfathered in, although city ordinances would prohibit their continuation forever.

Since that time, those properties and many others now are a part of the city. Yet some remain as outside islands today.

• • •

Gainesville still claims to be the broiler capital of the world, though some other poultry-producing areas might dispute that.

Baldwin, on the Banks-Habersham line, however, at one time claimed to be the birthplace of the industry that grew so large in neighboring Hall County. Connie Watts, who wrote articles for The Times from that area for many years, attributed that distinction to H.G. Link. Link, Watts wrote, founded the first chicken hatchery in this part of the country in 1900.

Link operated everything by hand and grew his own laying hens. Part of Link's operation later evolved into poultry processing.

Baldwin today is home of Fieldale Corp., one of the giants in the poultry industry.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times and can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle N.E., Gainesville, GA 30501. His column appears Sundays and on gainesvilletimes.com.



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