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City island annexation headed to arbitration
Panel chosen by Gainesville and Hall will have 60 days to decide
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Gainesville and Hall County will head to arbitration over the city’s plan to annex 115 “island properties,” lawyers from both sides said.

City and county officials met last week to discuss the annexation, but at the end of the meeting they decided to move ahead with the mediation, said Gainesville’s annexation attorney, Frank Jenkins III of Jenkins & Bowen in Cartersville. There are no plans to meet again, he said.

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

The Georgia Department of Community Affairs has supplied Jenkins and County Attorney Bill Blalock with names of people qualified to serve on the panel, Jenkins said.

DCA gave names of four city officials, four county officials and three people with expertise in planning, also referred to as the “academics.”

Gainesville gets to dismiss two county officials and one academic, and the county gets to dismiss two city officials and one academic.

Once both parties agree on a panel, a hearing is held and the panel has 60 days from the date it was empaneled to make recommendations.

After the hearing, the city can chose to annex using the conditions established by the panel, abandon the annexation or annex using the original zoning if the panel doesn’t impose conditions, states the arbitration handbook from the Georgia Municipal Association.

Either party can appeal to the Superior Court to correct errors of fact or law or challenge the bias or misconduct of an arbitrator or the abuse of power by the panel.

The panel does not have the authority to approve or deny any particular annexation proposal, the handbook states.

The panel members first consider the objection by looking at the impact of the change in zoning, land use or population density proposed.

If the objection is ruled valid, the panel makes its findings, which can include attaching conditions to the property for a year or recommending mitigation measures.

Blalock said the county hopes to accomplish two goals from the arbitration. The first is to require the city to follow the law, which Blalock said city officials are not doing. The second is to allow property owners affected by the annexation to stay in the county if they want.

“We would like them to have a choice,” he said.

The county has objected to the annexation plan because the city’s proposed zoning and land uses of many properties are in conflict with the county’s comprehensive plan and its own zoning laws. It has also alleged that the city didn’t give proper notice about its plan.

The city held two public hearings on Dec. 4 about its annexation plan. It also voted to approve the plan on first reading. The second reading has been postponed because of the county’s objection.

During meetings with the Hall County Legislative Delegation in December, city and county officials addressed the issue of annexation, with the county officials urging legislators to change existing law and officials from the cities opposed to any change.

If the dispute drags on for weeks or months and state law is changed, Jenkins said a new law might not apply to this particular case.

“I see no detriment to the city,” he said.

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