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Gainesville pushes ahead with island annexations
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Pet shop owner Kenneth Neidenbach said he thinks Gainesville’s plan to annex 115 “island” properties in Hall County is a tax grab that could put him out of business.

The City Council approved amending its annexation ordinance Thursday to meet state law requirements for local governments starting the annexation process. It’s been working on this annexation plan for more than six months. City officials have maintained the plan would clean up boundaries and set consistent zoning standards in gateway corridors and commercial areas.

Neidenbach said he opposes being forced to become part of the city and believes it will cost him more than $1,200 in taxes, rent and business license requirements.

“We’re in a damn recession,” Neidenbach said, “I have to fight for every cent I make.”

Gainesville plans to send out new notices to the affected property owners on June 17, Community Development Authority Director Rusty Ligon said.

“The process would be the same as the one we started late in 2012,” Ligon said in an email. “We hold a called (Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board) meeting on July 2 in the morning, then hold first reading at (the City) Council that night.”

Council members will take two votes. The islands affected are unincorporated parts of Hall County surrounded by city property. The 197 acres the city wants to incorporate is mostly zoned commercial and industrial, with some residential mixed in.

The former city ordinance required the published notice of a public hearing, as well as a sign posted at least 15 days before the hearing stating its date, time and place. Plus, Gainesville’s law required a notice to 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 a hearing and that a public notice for that hearing be published in a local newspaper at least 15 days beforehand.

Some property owners are still opposed to annexation, but previous attempts by the county to stop the plan have been unsuccessful. Rep. Carl Rogers, R-Gainesville, has filed legislation that would force cities to annex all island properties or none and would give counties the authority to go into binding arbitration with the cities.

An arbitration panel would have the power to approve or deny the annexation, Rogers said.

“The concern I have just being a legislator is if you’re going to annex, take it all, “ Rogers said. “Don’t cherry-pick. I think they have done that.”

Gainesville and Hall County went through arbitration on the annexation dispute in March, which sided with the city on its proposed zoning for the affected property. Under state law, the panel can’t stop a city from annexing over a county’s objections and can only rule on land-use designations.

Rogers said he wants to meet with officials from the Georgia Municipal Association and the Association County Commissioners of Georgia about the bill, which was filed at the end of this year’s General Assembly legislative session. The draft bill won’t be considered until January.

“What I’m asking any and all cities to do is if you’re going to take islands, take it all and not jump over a piece of property you may not want,” he said.

City officials have maintained the annexation is to clean up boundaries and set consistent zoning standards in gateway corridors and commercial areas. Gainesville documents from last year show the annexed county property owners would have to pay a total of about $79,200 more in taxes.

The county is undecided about whether to object the annexation plan again. Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock said he hasn’t seen the amended ordinance and would have to see if the process followed the law. County officials and elected leaders in the past have spoken out against the proposal, saying county residents shouldn’t be forced into Gainesville.

“I’m willing to protect the taxpayers and property owners of this county,” Commissioner Scott Gibbs said in December, referring to taking legal action against the annexation.

The county filed an objection with the Department of Community Affairs.

Annexations must be cleared by the U.S. Department of Justice to make sure it complies with the federal Voting Rights Act.

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