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Gainesville considers changing law to make annexation easier

POSTED: May 30, 2013 12:06 a.m.

Gainesville City Council is expected to consider changing its code and readvertising its plan to annex 115 “island properties” in Hall County at its meeting next week.

The reason, said Rusty Ligon, Gainesville Community Development director, is that Hall County threatened to file an injunction if the city continued with the current island annexation request.

Council members are scheduled to review the proposed ordinance change as part of its work session agenda today.

Islands are defined as unincorporated areas of the county that are surrounded by property that is within the city. Gainesville council members held a public hearing and voted to approve the annexation in December, but put the second vote on hold after Hall County filed an objection with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs. An arbitration panel ruled in the city’s favor in March.

Gainesville advertised it would take a final vote on the issue May 21, but sent notices to the property owners at the beginning of the month that it wouldn’t hold that vote.

“We’re redoing the process,” Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said in a May 16 interview.

County Administrator Randy Knighton said Wednesday he was unaware of any county official threatening to file an injunction.

“I don’t know where that’s coming from.” Knighton said. “If Gainesville has said somebody has threatened, or somebody associated with the county, threatened to file an injunction, I guess my question would be to Gainesville, ‘Well, who said it?’”

An injunction can be a way to petition a court to request an order to prevent an activity or its continuation.

Both County Attorney Bill Blalock and attorney Frank Jenkins, who represented the city against the county in arbitration hearings about the annexation earlier this year, declined to return three messages for comment. Messages left for Commissioners Scott Gibbs and Jeff Stowe were forwarded to Knighton.\

Jenkins said Blalock threatened the injunction, Ligon said.

“The county contends the city didn’t follow its own code during the annexation process by not posting signs on each of the 115 properties and not notifying neighboring property owners,” Ligon said in the May email. “In an effort to avoid further litigation with the county and expense to taxpayers, the city is in the process of amending its code.”

The current ordinance requires the city to publish a notice in a local newspaper at least 15 days before a public hearing before the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board. It also requires that, at least 15 days before the public hearing, the city post a sign on the property stating the date, time and place of the public hearing before the planning and appeals board. Plus, the local law requires a notice must be mailed to owners of property that touches or is located across the street from the subject property at least 10 days before the hearing.

State law requires less, Ligon said. Annexation started by a local government requires that a public notice be published in a local newspaper.

“Upon approval of the code amendment, the council intends to proceed with the island annexation project,” Ligon wrote.

Some current and former county commissioners have said the annexation is a strong-arm move by the city, costing county property owners more than $79,000 in additional taxes. When asked if the county still supports that position, Knighton hedged.

“At this point we would have to determine, or least have to assess, what procedure the city’s going through right now with respect to a proposed change in their ordinance,” he said. “Without having reviewed that or ultimately being able to analyze what the city ultimately determines, we would not be able to make some decisions at this point.”

The owner of the Big Lots shopping center, SC Gainesville Georgia LLC, faces a nearly $16,000 tax increase. The company’s lawyer, Abb Hayes, has said the city has to follow its own code or face court challenges. Hayes said he would have to see the new ordinance, but his client still doesn’t want to come into the city.

“Nobody has wanted this for the last number of years and nobody wants it even today,” he said. “So no matter what they do to try to change the rules, it’s obvious that the only person or entity that wants these to go forward is the city of Gainesville.”

Gainesville plans to mail notices again to affected property owners and advertise again in the newspaper. Public hearings will be held both by the planning board and the City Council, Ligon said.

City officials maintain the annexation will clean up boundaries and set consistent zoning standards in gateway corridors and commercial areas.

“It’s going to get done eventually,” Dunagan said. “It will happen.”


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