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Panel sides with Gainesville on 'island' annexations
Hall County has 10 days to appeal decision involving 115 properties
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An arbitration panel has sided with Gainesville’s plan to annex 115 “island” properties, but city officials are mum on what’s next.

The Gainesville City Council approved the annexation in a Dec. 4 meeting but postponed a second vote after Hall County officials filed an official objection with the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

Hall County has 10 days to appeal in Superior Court. County Attorney Bill Blalock said the county’s next steps depend on what the city does.

City staff and Gainesville Mayor Danny Dunagan declined to comment, citing ongoing litigation.

“We’re certainly pleased that panel agreed with us,” said Frank Jenkins III, with Jenkins & Bowen PC of Cartersville, the attorney representing Gainesville.

Panel members said after evidence was presented at a hearing on Tuesday that the city’s proposed zoning is consistent with the county’s current zoning and land use. However, the panel said it was outside its jurisdiction to decide if the city was following its own laws and rules in annexing the properties, which was one of two of Blalock’s arguments. The second was that 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.

The panel seemed more concerned about a current zoning conflict than a future one, the county attorney said.

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

The larger issue for county officials is that property owners don’t have a choice whether they are annexed or not.

However, panel members don’t have the authority to approve or deny any particular annexation proposal, the arbitration handbook from the Georgia Municipal Association handbook states.

The panel was made up of officials from other counties and experts who were chosen by Hall County and Gainesville.

Most of the islands are commercially zoned, with some light industrial and residential mixed in.

A number of property owners opposed being forcibly annexed, County Administrator Randy Knighton said.

“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,” Knighton said.

Some county commissioners have said the annexation is a strong-arm move from the city, costing county property owners more than $79,000 in additional taxes.

Blalock said if Gainesville decides to continue with the annexation, it should readvertise its plan and hold additional meetings.

Jenkins said he doesn’t know what the city plans to do.

“The ball is pretty much in the city’s court,” Blalock said.