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Hall County pushes for reforms to annexation laws following disputes this year
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Hall County resident Teresa Cantrell speaks to the Buford Planning Commission Tuesday, July 20, 2021, at the Buford Arena opposing a controversial warehouse development proposal. The Buford Planning Commission meeting approved the proposal which will go before the Buford City Commission next month. - photo by Scott Rogers

Hall County wants the state to change its annexation laws to give counties and their residents more authority following recent contentious developments.

The Board of Commissioners plan to send a resolution to the state legislature, advocating for reforms to annexation laws that they say are outdated. 

The resolution, which is supported by Association County Commissioners of Georgia, states: “Annexation of unincorporated areas by municipalities may be appropriate to provide public services not otherwise available from the county, but may be abused when its primary objectives are to expand a city’s tax base or circumvent a county’s land use plan or zoning ordinance.” 

Pressure from increased growth and development could impact neighboring residents, disrupt a county’s land use plan and strain county infrastructure, the resolution states. 

The current annexation laws don’t take into account what many neighboring residents want, county attorney Van Stephens said at the county’s meeting Monday, Dec. 6, because cities don’t have to consider people outside their jurisdiction. 

The House Study Committee on Annexation has been hearing from counties and cities on this issue across the state since August, and proposed reforms to the legislation — last updated in 2007 — are likely to come when the legislature convenes in January. 

“We’re asking the legislature, as these matters come before the legislature, to support revision,” Stephens said. “The cities and counties may not always agree … but we’re asking that reform be supported, basically to give citizens of the unincorporated county around the annexation site a voice.”

One reform Hall County would like to see, Stephens said, is prohibiting a property from being rezoned for two to three years after it is annexed by a city.

“It would avoid a situation where a developer goes to the city to seek a rezoning that it can’t get from the county,” he said. 

Currently, most rezonings requests from developers come with a request to rezone the property. For example, a property zoned for residential use in Hall County that touches city boundaries could be annexed into the city and rezoned to commercial use, if the city approves it. And if a developer first seeks to rezone land in a county but gets denied, they may ask to annex it into a nearby city, if the land touches city boundaries. 

Stephens said this has not always been the case.

“It used to be that a citizen would say they want to be in the city for some reason,” Stephens said. “Now it’s mainly developers trying to get the zoning (to build their desired project).”

The county has objected to two annexation requests this year, including a highly contentious proposal for a warehouse in South Hall that was eventually annexed and rezoned into Buford. That proposal was denied by both Hall County and Flowery Branch before the developer went to Buford.

Once the county objected to the request, they had to argue against Buford in front of a state panel who voted in favor of Buford. Buford then voted it through in August at a meeting with more than a hundred residents from Flowery Branch and unincorporated Hall, who loudly booed the decision. 

Following the city’s decision in August, Commission Chairman Phillip Beard said the annexation would help the city grow its tax base and support it’s school system.

“(Buford) is not a small town anymore, and it takes a lot to operate our schools and keep the quality that we have,” Beard said. “To do that we have to continue to grow.”

Some residents involved even filed a lawsuit against Buford to dispute it.

Commissioner Kathy Cooper said residents like those who showed up in Buford deserve to be considered, along with the county government.
“If you’re going to annex, the purpose or the usage of that property should be agreeable with who you’re taking it from,” Cooper said. “If you’re taking it from Hall County we should have some say so … what it’s usage is going to be.”