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Gainesville sets its sights on more island annexations

Properties are mostly residential

POSTED: July 18, 2013 11:45 p.m.

With the success of annexing 115 “island” properties into Gainesville behind it, Gainesville City Council has set its sights on hundreds of other islands in Hall County.

The council voted earlier this week to go after the other properties after force-annexing mostly commercial properties, something it has attempted for years. The original list of island properties was 561, but the final number it will try next is unclear.

The council voted 4-1 to annex, with Councilman George Wangemann voting against.

Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan said there may have been some strong reactions from residents who have opposed the plans in the past, but he cited the complaints from some county officials who have said the city “cherry-picked” certain properties for annexation as a reason to move forward.

Dunagan said he won’t be voting on the planned next round of annexation. An island is a piece of property in unincorporated Hall County that is surrounded by property that is within city limits.

“I won’t vote because I’ll have resigned from the council by then,” Dunagan said, referring to his campaign for mayor. He said he will resign from council at the end of August.

Community Development Director Rusty Ligon said his department will go through the original list to determine what island properties the city will try to annex. He said most of those are residential property. The city expects to file an application to annex the rest around September, he said.

The City Council considered trying to annex all the island properties in 2008 and tried to annex about 60 properties in 2009. The city has maintained the annexations are to clean up boundaries and create uniform zoning in gateway corridors.

Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has filed legislation that would force cities to annex all island properties or none. It’s expected to be considered in January.

Gainesville also recently amended its local annexation ordinance to try to reduce further legal action against its annexation plans. The city changed its ordinance to echo the state law, which has fewer advertising requirements.

Hall County consistently opposed the annexations until the city changed its code in June.

Commissioner Craig Lutz agreed it looked like the city has cherry-picked properties with the 115 island properties it just annexed. He approves of taking all if the city takes one, but he’s against forced annexations.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Lutz said. “But I’m not going to stand in their way as long as they do it the correct way. Obviously before they weren’t doing it the right way and they fixed their ordinance so they could do it this way.”

Some residents, including John Lloyd Jones, a county small business owner whose property was just annexed, said the annexations should come with a consolidation of services. Dunagan said some services, such as human resources and planning, were merged until 2006 when both governments went their separate ways.

Lutz said he favors more than consolidated services; he’s in favor of consolidating both governments, but the idea has failed to gain traction. It would give the county the opportunity to do greater things, he said.

Dunagan said the city tried the approach until Hall County changed its mind about eight years ago. Lutz said he wasn’t on the commission then.

“I think certain consolidations make sense; the problem we end up (having) is the debate over control,” he said. “I think (the) county needs to control it because we service the whole county, including that city service.”

What government would control what services would be an issue, Lutz said. County residents can only vote for county officials, but city residents can vote for city and county officials.

“That would have to do with control more than anything,” he said. “My vote would be just to consolidate the whole thing.”


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