Every few years, an annexation controversy featuring the city of Gainesville and outlying properties seems to pop up.
The current one involves more than 100 “islands,” or outside-city property surrounded by inside-city property. Gainesville wants to bring them into the city limits, saying it wanted to clean up its boundaries, bring about more consistent zoning and eliminate jurisdictional confusion. Opponents counter that their taxes would increase, they don’t want to be forced into the city, and the city isn’t following proper procedures, including adequate notice.
After World War II, as Gainesville began to grow again, leaders also proposed annexation. Up until that time, the city limits was pretty much a circle about a mile radius from the downtown square.
Longstreet Hills, one of the area’s first big residential developments, was outside the city at the time. Some residents in the new neighborhood as well as those along Riverside Drive, Morningside Drive, Green Street Circle and Cleveland Road actually petitioned to come into the city limits. The original petition contained 28 property owners, but others joined, including areas out Dawsonville Highway.
This first proposed major annexation in March 1946, however, didn’t go that smoothly. In addition to fearing higher taxes, some property owners worried they wouldn’t be able to raise hogs or chickens on their property. That was a common practice close in and even some inside the city. City officials promised to grandfather in those mini-farms if they conflicted with city ordinances.
They also said they would work to keep taxes low until city services were provided. Other arguments for annexation were fire protection with reduced insurance rates and lower water bills. At the time outside residents could register their properties and pay a fee for city fire calls. Hall County didn’t have a fire department. Tuition charged outside residents to attend city schools would disappear for annexed properties, the city argued. The health department supported annexation because sewer service where available would eliminate septic tanks, and door-to-door garbage collection would be provided.
The proposed annexation also would have taken in River Bend and Sardis schools with the city taking over their debts. Gainesville’s population in the 1940 census was about 10,200.
Besides the city, the local chamber of commerce hyped annexation as a good thing. It said average costs for water, garbage collection, school tuition, taxes, etc., would amount to $127.61 for city residents and $218.41 for the same services outside the city.
Nevertheless, the proposal lost 312 to 166 at Stewart’s Grocery on Thompson Bridge Road and 153-118 at Rogers Service Station at the intersection of Riverside Drive and Thompson Bridge Road.
Another proposed annexation of county property into Gainesville failed by 18 votes in February 1952. City voters cast ballots in that referendum with 709 of 730 registered voters voting.
Still another attempt at annexation failed by 68 votes in April that year.
In 1976, Gainesville was able to annex 350 acres, including Riverside Military Academy. The city was pursuing expansion of its city limits aggressively at the time. The law allowed municipalities to run their lines up roads’ rights-of-way to connect to a property that wanted to be inside the city.
Gainesville wanted to eliminate islands within its borders, just as it is attempting today. It especially aimed at properties surrounded by city limits out Atlanta Road and Cleveland Road.
Hall County school board protested the city’s annexation policies, saying the more property Gainesville took in, the less property taxes available for the county’s schools. It had even sued the city over the issue in 1973, but that effort failed.
The school board tried to cut Gainesville off at the pass. It lobbied Oakwood to annex three of the school system’s properties to block Gainesville from annexing more. It also wanted Clermont to expand its city limits to stop Gainesville’s efforts.
By 1986, the law had changed to make it more difficult to annex through roads’ rights-of-way. Property owners could request annexation if their land was contiguous with other city property.
So while the city has grown over the years and spread out miles from the supposed center, the downtown square, where it all started, annexation never has been easy unless property owners affected agree being an official Gainesville resident is better than the status quo.
Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. He can be reached at 2183 Pinetree Circle NE, Gainesville, GA 30501; phone, 770-532-2326. His column appears Sundays and at gainesvilletimes.com/johnny.