The Georgia General Assembly ended on Thursday and so did the City of Berkeley Lake's chance to annex 131 commercial properties that were slated to be part of the new city of Peachtree Corners.
The bill was introduced by State Rep. Tom Rice and Senator David Shafer in an effort to satisify both sides of what was building into a heated issue between the neighboring cities.
Berkeley Lake wanted to add to its tax base and began annexing adjacent commercial properties last summer that had been designated to be a part of Peachtree Corners. Without a government in place to speak in its behalf, Peachtree Corners had no representation to answer Berkeley Lake's actions.
Berkeley Lake leaders continued its annexing efforts after the Nov. 8 referendum passed creating the new city of Peachtree Corners - and as it continued annexing properties, the tension grew between the two cities.
H.B. 956 was intended to settle the dispute; however, it only seemed to add fuel to the fire as Peachtree Corners voters said they wanted to have a say in what properties would be annexed, and not have it settled through legislative annexation.
Following is an email sent on Thursday evening (3/29) from State Rep. Tom Rice explaining the process and the ultimite demise of H.B. 956.
Patch attempted to reach Mike Mason, mayor-elect of Peachtree Corners and Lois Salter, mayor of Berkeley Lake, for their comments but neither was available by the deadline for this story.
By State Rep. Tom Rice
As we come to the end of the 2012 legislative session I wanted to provide some insights on the bill I initiated (HB 956) earlier in the legislative session to try to alleviate the Berkeley Lake – Peachtree Corners annexation controversy.
Senator Shafer and I have both worked many hours to attempt to find a fair solution to the issue. On Monday Senator Shafer passed an amended version of the bill in the Senate. It came back to the House for my action. It is valuable for you to know some important facts about the situation that will, I hope, cause you to understand the difficulty involved with attempting to fairly adjudicate the situation by legislative action.
- The boundaries of Peachtree Corners set in the charter duplicated the agreed Planning Overlay District set in place by Gwinnett County about six years ago.
· The charter for Peachtree Corners was passed in March of 2011 by the legislature and signed into law by Governor Deal in April.
· During a meeting in May of 2011 the Berkeley Lake City Council related their desire to annex portions of the new city.
· Attempts were made to bring the parties together starting in May. As there were no elected officials in Peachtree Corners at the time no one could speak officially for Peachtree Corners.
· Berkeley Lake began attempts to secure commitments of property owners within the boundaries of Peachtree Corners to join in what is known as a 60% annexation (60% of the property owners) in state law in the summer.
· The result of that effort was an annexation of fifty-five parcels, valued at over 20 million dollars (at the 40% valuation) by the time the legislative session began in January of 2012.
· I began work with the cooperation of the Berkeley Lake officials to attempt to come to a position where the borders of both communities could be adjusted to reflect a common sense resolution and to avoid the possibility of a law suit that I was convinced would help neither side.
- The total amount of tax revenue that would have been lost to Peachtree Corners in the original version of HB 956 (if you include the 60% annexation) was $40,000 at a maximum 1 mill property tax
- The taxable properties available to Berkeley Lake (including the 60% annexation) were estimated at close to a 40 million dollar taxable amount.
- This does not include the loss of Franchise Fees to Peachtree Corners which could be over an additional $100,000 per year.
· Three events have occurred since I passed the bill in the House.
The two largest property owners in the area contacted me to state their opposition to the annexation. Berkeley Lake officials were asked to speak with the largest property owner. The company remained unconvinced that the city could provide the types of service their heavy industry needed.
- Peachtree Corners has elected a mayor and two council members who have offered the opinion that they oppose the annexation.
- All remaining candidates in the run off have communicated their opposition to the annexation.
- In an effort to give both cities a final option I did develop a compromise amendment that would have provided Berkeley Lake taxable properties some properties in addition to the December annexation. Senator Shafer and I agreed that unless both Berkeley Lake and Peachtree Corners officials agreed on this compromise we would leave the issue to the two cities to work out. To my knowledge neither city was positive on the compromise.
At this point in the process the December Berkeley Lake annexation includes fifty-five properties in the original Peachtree Corners map description. The law, I have been informed by counsel, is murky in defining when a new city’s boundaries become effective and not open to annexation.
Based upon this long history of events, I believe the best option would be to have both cities work towards a cooperative solution. I am hopeful that Mayor Salter and Mayor Mason and their respective council’s can come to a place of agreement on the borders. When and if they do I am sure that Senator Shafer and I would be glad to implement that agreement in law during the course of the next legislative session.
It is the product of a very complex situation with well intentioned people on both sides. If you have questions please feel free to call me at the Capitol at 404-656-5912.
Representative Tom Rice