Gainesville City Council plans to hold the second vote on annexing 115 “island” properties at a May 21 hearing. Islands are defined as unincorporated areas of the county that are surrounded by city property.
In December, the city held a public hearing and voted to approve the annexation, 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 and while the county has said it strongly opposes the forced annexation of mostly commercial property into the city, it appears to have exhausted the legal remedies.
Hall County Attorney Bill Blalock and attorney Frank Jenkins III, who represented the city in its dispute with the county, did not return calls for comment.
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.
City officials maintain the annexation will clean up boundaries and set consistent zoning standards in gateway corridors and commercial areas.
Some property owners have not ruled out a court challenge if the city approves the annexation.
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, said the city has to follow its own code by posting annexation notices on the properties and giving notices to adjacent landowners. City officials have said doing that was not feasible or legally necessary.
“I think it will be fatally flawed,” Hayes said. “I don’t believe a court will ultimately let them go through with the annexation.”
Rusty Ligon, director of the Gainesville Community Development Department said in an email to The Times that Gainesville will hold another public hearing during the meeting before the May vote and send notices to property owners. The city advertised the public hearing in Tuesday’s print edition of The Times.
Gainesville wants to annex properties, which include commercial, industrial and some residential, totaling some 197 acres.
Arbitration panel members said the city’s proposed zoning is consistent with the county’s current zoning and land use. The panel rejected the county’s objections, saying it was outside its jurisdiction to decide if the city was following its own laws and rules in annexing the properties — one of Blalock’s arguments. The second was the city’s proposed zoning conflicted with county ordinances and Hall County’s comprehensive plan, which anticipates what the county’s land use will be 20 years into the future.
“While we respect the decision of the arbitration panel and understand their review was limited to certain factors pertaining to the annexation request, we do believe there is a fundamental disconnect when cities have the ability to annex certain property and property owners without their consent or approval,” Hall County Administrator Randy Knighton said in March.
According to the arbitration handbook from the Georgia Municipal Association, panel members don’t have the authority to approve or deny any particular annexation proposal.