BUCKHEAD COUNCIL OF NEIGHBORHOODS
May 13, 2021 Meeting Minutes
Zoom Meeting: 6:00 – 7:00 pm
6:00 – 6:20 Sam Lenaeus: Buckhead Exploratory Committee
6:20 – 6:40 Linda Klein: Buckhead Coalition
6:40 – 6:50 Gloria Cheatham: Incoming President Tuxedo Park
6:50 – 7:00 Bob Irvin: former State Senator
6:50 – 7:00 Gordon Certain, Secretary – Adoption of Minute
6:50 – 7:00 Adjourn
Note: A total of 129 people (listed by neighborhood on the next page) were able to participate in the BCN meeting’s Zoom session. However, several serious technology problems were encountered during this meeting and unfortunately, 290 people (listed by neighborhood on the last three pages of the minutes) who had enrolled to participate in this meeting were blocked from logging on to the meeting’s Zoom session. After the meeting, an online video of the entire meeting was made available to all who had been blocked. which is We apologize for the major inconvenience these problems caused.
The attendance reports below list those who were able to participate in the meeting as it happened. A second list shows those who had registered in the meeting but couldn’t see it live.
A video of this meeting is available at video of this BCN meeting. The ten character passcode is BCN#123abc . The video does not include Addenda To BCN Meeting Presentations on the topic of Buckhead Cityhood included on pages 10-13 of these minutes.
May 13, 2021 Meeting Minutes
For and Against BUCKHEAD CITYHOOD
Mary Norwood: We will be done at seven, so we’re going to get going right now at six o’clock. Buckhead exploratory committee. Y’all are up.
Sam Lenaeus: Thank you, Mary. I’m Sam Lenaeus. Many of you know me but I live in the Peachtree Heights West neighborhood. For the past three years I’ve served as your BCN Housing Chair. I really want to thank Mary for trusting me and coming to me and asking me to do that for BCN. It’s been a pleasure and I really truly love serving the BCN. I also want to recognize our Buckhead Exploratory Committee, secretary, Leila Laniado. She should be on the call tonight.
All right, so the idea of Buckhead City is not new for me. It really started for me three years ago, when I joined the BCN. And really more so, just before the pandemic happened last year. I was at the last in-person BCN Meeting, and a friend came in. I decided that rather than sit at the front table, I sat in the audience with my friend.
He was very concerned about the rise in crime in Buckhead and wanted to understand what’s going on. He was specifically upset about the murder that happened outside the Capital City Club of a young man leaving a wedding, waiting for an Uber. I’m sure everybody remembers that.
After I talked to him for some time at the meeting and after the meeting, I mentioned the idea of Buckhead City and that somebody really needs to step up and do something. It occurred to me that rather than keep looking for somebody to do, it was time for me to do it. So, I talked about it with my friends about the idea that maybe I would take charge. So, all that said, what happened was a grassroots movement started. We asked to have a YouTube live July of 2020.
We were asking for volunteers. We tried to understand the idea of what it might mean. Now remember that early in the pandemic, our crime rates went down almost to zero. People weren’t going out. Everything seemed very different. Very quiet. But shortly thereafter the City of Atlanta “handcuffed” all of our police officers and the criminals knew that there was no enforcement and that they could just take over our streets. That’s when things really went to hell.
We had already started talking about a Buckhead City, but you have to know that was not the cause of it. This kind of catapulted it a little bit. Not long after we had our Zoom call, we got together and formed a committee and we decided to elect a board. That’s where I was elected, President and CEO of the Buckhead Exploratory Committee. We began our legal work. We formed a 501(c)(4). We opened up a bank account. We raised some seed money. We got started meeting with all the experts that had done cities within our neighborhood and we wanted to explore all the options. A lot of work has happened since then. We started listening to people’s stories, understanding what the people felt that live here in Buckhead. and then we hosted another YouTube Live in January of 2021. Now, remember, at that time everything is also still on the table.
But really, nobody was coming to us giving us any solutions other than cityhood. And we knew, it being the odd year, the legislature required us to drop the bill now in 2021 or we’d have to wait until 2023. So, we, as the Buckhead Exploratory Committee, wrote a bill and had it submitted to the legislature for you, the citizens of Buckhead. So that kind of takes my timetable up to a few weeks ago. So, I’d like to introduce you to Bill White. Bill was recently elected the President of Paces neighborhood. He was also appointed our CEO and Chair for Buckhead Exploratory Committee. I’m going to remain the founder and President of the group, but I think Bill can take the rest of the presentation from here.
Bill White: I want to thank Sam a very much. We are both working with Leila Laniado who is our great secretary and who’s a member of the Executive Committee. She’s at home tonight taking care of a sick child right now, which is maybe why she couldn’t wave or say something there.
But Mary, I wanted to thank you very much for your leadership of the BCN and everything else that you’re doing for the great people of Atlanta. And of course, the people of Buckhead. I’d also thank Debra Wathen who we had a chance to meet with you all recently about us getting more involved with the BCN and keeping up with your great work. We thank everybody for their leadership and their love of our great communities here in Atlanta.
I want to thank you all for being here tonight to learn how we are working to protect our homes, our families, our fellow neighbors, and indeed, our livelihoods. We are all here because we love Buckhead, and we are all here because we love Atlanta. For the ones not familiar with us, we are the Buckhead Exploratory Committee or BEC. We came together before the pandemic because we were worried about our community. We all are from different backgrounds, but we shared the passion for our beloved neighborhoods. We got tired of complaining and not having a seat at the table. So, we decided to do something about it. We voted among a group of people, and we have selected what is now to BEC Executive Committee and as you just heard from Sam, Leila is on board as well. Behind us we have several hundred volunteers who are all experts in various fields that are associated with such an effort, and we are not alone.
Our efforts in the community started advertising the crime in our community. We are no longer were blindfolded. The crime kept trending up, and we got used to hearing horror stories about home break-ins. I’m a victim of some of that crime in our Paces neighborhood. We kept seeing crime trend up: the shootings on our streets, 25 last weekend, with a 15 year old boy dead. Car-jackings: all of our gas stations in Buckhead have experienced at least one or two of those. And you name it, it goes on and on. We decided that we were not okay with this and whatever efforts were being put in place by the City and various very dedicated, amazing, folks in the Buckhead Coalition and in other great groups were not enough. The City of Atlanta, we believe, has exploited the beautiful people of Buckhead for way too long and for so many years, in fact. they have taken advantage of our spirit, our work ethic, and our generosity. The City of Atlanta has pushed us to the point of no return. It’s not about our Mayor or a mayor. Some may be better than others and we’ll see who the next one is. It also isn’t about a City Council that was just one vote away from what some people call de-funding the police.
It’s a little bit about corruption, lack of services, lack of accountability, and the list does go on. We are definitely not the first community in Georgia to successfully do this. We have a great team who has deep experience in helping neighborhoods becoming independent cities. And I would add that we have the top cityhood lobbyists working with us and very deeply engaged in this process.
There are other cities out there and it’s absolutely not about race. I will be happy to address that with anybody who would like to come meet with us. We would be happy to come see all of you in person and talk to you about that. And I think those terms are extremely divisive, hurtful, and unwarranted. If you take South Fulton, for example, there are over 90% African American residents and it is now the fifth largest city in population in Georgia, incorporated, on May 1st. Nearly ninety two percent of its residents hold a high school diploma, at least, and the average household is making about $80,000, making the city, one of the best educated and most affluent in the South Metro Atlanta area.
We have, pretty much, one major issue that we’re focused on and it’s crime, crime and crime. There are issues about zoning. There are issues about infrastructure, essential services, our taxes going up, spending out of control, corrupt procurement processes, and the “handcuffing”, as Sam said, of our beloved police. And we love that Major Senzer is on board. Andrew’s a Long Island Boy done good. I’m from Long Island. So, I want to salute Major Senzer and the great people of the Atlanta Police Department.
I was leaving a Brookhaven establishment the other day and a police officer was there. I went up and thanked him and he told me he was a sergeant in the Atlanta Police Department. I talked to him, and he explained to me, that he felt that the Atlanta police have been demoralized, that it has been vilified, and that the “committing folks of crime” are being victimized as victims. So, it’s the messed-up situation. He went over and left his job as a sergeant in the Atlanta Police Department along with almost 450 Atlanta Police officers who have quit the job because of the lack of respect, appreciation, and honor that we should be giving them.
There is a lot of opposition to our cause. We understand that. I just suggest that everybody follow the money on that. Most of the loudest voices, who we are happy to talk with you about in person, do not even live in Buckhead. That is very distressful to us. Our businesses are suffering, and we have a pathway forward. So right now, we have raised almost $500,000 of the $1.5 million we need to get us through a referendum on the November ballot next year. We have two bills that have been dropped in the Senate and the Assembly. We had an accidental vote in the Assembly on the last day of April 1st, and there was no joke there, where we had a hundred and five Assembly members vote to support a Buckhead City. We are raising money now, we are looking for new members and we have thousands of households, literally thousands, that have joined our effort, and if you want to know more about us, you can go to BECNOW.com. You can join, you can volunteer, you can donate.
I would like to address some of the misinformation, if I could Mary, just for about a minute, and you can cut me off at any point, just give me a thumbs up.
There are many neighborhoods represented on our call tonight who are working so hard for their respective beloved neighborhoods. But it will be only the registered voters of the map that’s been drawn for our Buckhead City that will be voting on this. The Mayor does not have the approval process. The City Council does not. The voters in the Greater Atlanta area, do not, but the process is well underway, and I think it’s important to recognize that we have come further than any entity attempting to get this done. And we’ve been doing our homework and we are fully committed because we have filed for divorce. The divorce is final. There is not another solution for us. A lot of folks had said, once Mayor Bottoms announced she wasn’t running, what are you going to do now? But we don’t know who the new mayor will be, but I can tell you this, the new mayor of Buckhead City will very much look forward to working with whoever the new mayor of Atlanta is, on how best we can partner to make our cities safe and prosperous. And I really thank you for your time and we were very open to meeting with all of you and talking to you and we are very interested to hear all of the reasons why you believe this is a tough decision and we are also very interested to hear those that support us. And we want to talk to all of you.
Mary Norwood: Bill. Thank you very much. Linda you now, it is your turn.
Linda Klein: Good evening everyone. I’m Linda Klein. I’m your neighbor, I live and work here in the heart of Buckhead. I’m a volunteer and I’m speaking to you in my personal capacity. My remarks have not been shared or reviewed with any member of the Buckhead Coalition. These are my words. I want to thank Mary Norwood for her leadership and also for allowing me the privilege of sharing with you how I feel about this very important decision facing all of us neighbors here in Buckhead.
Many years ago, I would shop at the Sears that’s now the site of the St. Regis Hotel. The place where I live now was the Boomershine Oldsmobile dealer. I remember when they replaced the window in my 1984 Olds Cutlass. Many people remark that in Atlanta, we frequently give directions by noting where something used to be. You would go over to where the Sears used to be and you turn, right. I admit that I do that, too. And we all think about how things used to be, and in hindsight, they may look better.
As our city grew into a great global service economy with the busiest airport in the world, we didn’t sit on the sidelines. We participated. We welcomed visitors, tourists, and conventioneers, and, of course, their money. And with that growth came opportunity. And as the city grew and prospered, so did all of us.
As I reflect on all of this, I can’t believe where we are. I can’t believe how we’ve come to this. And like you all, I’m disgusted and distressed by the increase in violent crime around us. I’ve become extra careful, and I don’t like how it feels and how it burdens me. Crime is my number one, two, and three issue also. The current distress of the violent crime crisis here in Buckhead and around the entire city: it’s real, it’s understandable, and it’s unsustainable. The deterioration of city services, zoning ordinances that harm our neighborhoods, and continued corrosion of ethics at City Hall are also unacceptable.
I agree with a lot of what Mr. Lenaeus and Mr. White say. We all love Buckhead. But when I ask myself, what’s the best way to fix this? Respectfully, I come to a different conclusion. After great thought, the conclusion of me is obvious. It’s to get out there and work to elect officials who will lead on these issues and improve our city with Citywide collaboration, while at the same time helping us, Buckhead neighbors, to directly implement policies to help keep us safe. The election is this year. It’s the better, faster, and least expensive way to be heard. And we can be heard.
Separating from the city of Atlanta; it’s not the answer. It’s the most expensive, slowest, and least efficient solution. Here’s why: The process to create a new city is lengthy and it’s complicated, with legal, legislative, and political obstacles, and entanglements all along the way. Here’s the process: First a local group decides it wants to incorporate, and this has clearly happened. Second, a bill sponsored by a member of the State Legislature is introduced. A placeholder bill was introduced in the final hours of the last day of the 2021 legislative session by Representative Jones who lives in Forsyth County, not Fulton. Next, a feasibility study needs to be done to see whether the new city would be viable. I understand that all of the four excellent Georgia universities with our state’s experts in urban planning, the universities that did the studies for the prior cities formed, such as Sandy Springs and Johns Creek, those four universities – they are all unwilling to do this study. Also, a second bill besides the one introduced by Mr. Jones from Forsyth needs to be introduced in the General Assembly and that’s considered the local bill and that generally requires support from a majority of the House and Senate local delegations. And I understand that not a single, local legislator has signed on and I believe that this is unprecedented. Then, if the House and Senate receive and pass the two bills, they go to the Governor’s desk. Again, this would happen in the 2022 legislative session. If the Governor signs it, a referendum is then placed on the ballot. So, the earliest, this referendum could take place is November of 2022. Who will vote in 2022? Mr. White is correct. Only the people in the new proposed city will get to vote. But we don’t know who they are. I understand that on Tuesday, the Buckhead Republicans were told that this has not been decided. Every neighborhood deserves to know now, whether or not it’s going to be included.
Between now and January, a lot of money will be spent. And we’re going to have nothing to show for it. However, also between now and January, there will be a citywide election to elect an entirely new city government. The Mayor, the entire City Council, the School Board, all positions, that working together, we can elect. If the candidates know we’re paying attention, they will pay attention to us.
You know, there’s a finite amount of time and money, let’s call that bandwidth, that people can devote to elections. We have jobs, we have family responsibilities, and I submit that this cityhood proposal is a dangerous distraction at a critical time. It takes our eye off the ball of electing the best. But worse, it gives folks in other areas of the city an opportunity to use Buckhead as a scapegoat, to let candidates who will say, well, why listen to Buckhead? They don’t want to be with us. They’re leaving. Don’t listen to them.
What happens if the Buckhead cityhood bill passes, and we suddenly live in a new city? We would begin the expensive process of creating another set of bureaucrats like city managers, elected officials, a Mayor, City Council, a City Hall, a court system, a Courthouse, Tax Collector, zoning, Parks, fire, police, etc. And this is included in the bill before the legislature despite what perhaps you’ve heard about a stripped-down government.
But one thing missing from the bill before the legislature is providing for water and sewer services. You might say, that’s not a problem. We can just continue to buy that from Atlanta. Please ask the people in Sandy Springs how that worked out for them. They sued Atlanta for charging them higher rates and lost. We all will pay more for water and sewer in a new City of Buckhead.
Another thing missing from the bill before the Legislature is public education and school tax. Would the children continue to attend APS schools? Not according to APS. Georgia law does not allow us to create a new school district. So, students will have to be transferred as the county figures out where to educate them. The schools are owned by APS. And what about the children in the rest of the Atlanta? How can APS take care of them without Buckhead’s tax base? And what about the parks and the police stations, and the firehouses. How much will we have to pay Atlanta to buy them? The City of Atlanta owns all of that, and more.
What about public finances and taxes? The impact on the City of Atlanta’s finances and its ability to satisfy its obligations of billions of dollars would be devastating. There’s simply no way Atlanta could fulfill its obligations. The result would be default. As the AJC recently reported, the City gets most of its revenue from property taxes that are paid by homeowners like us and commercial property owners. About 41% of that comes from Buckhead. And as such if Buckhead’s property taxes were removed from the City, it will have a devastating impact. So, you might say that won’t be our problem. It will be. The people who invested in Atlanta’s bonds, many of our neighbors who invested in these municipal bonds for their retirement, won’t stand for it. There will be lawsuits filed alleging there was a bait and switch. The bondholders relied on the entire tax base when buying the bonds. And now the collateral, they’ll say, is being snatched away. And for these reasons and more, a process of seeking cityhood would likely last a decade perhaps, maybe more.
Time does not permit me to discuss the issues with Marta service, its taxes or its board composition. And what about the business community? Even talk of Buckhead separating itself from Atlanta is costly to our business reputation. Business and investors hate uncertainty. Economic development is an important part of the health of our community. Nothing damages economic development more than uncertainty. And a lack of certainty could cause long-term economic damage to our community, forcing business relocations, fewer entrepreneurs and companies, investments, and a diminished tax base.
Talk of cityhood and the monumental repercussions will likely cause hesitation for future investment all over Georgia. What happens to Atlanta impacts the vitality of our entire State. This is the capital city. And you cannot compare this effort to the unsuccessful one in Stockbridge and Eagles Landing. That’s a city of 22,000, and not even the county seat. Respectfully, what happens in Stockbridge does not impact what happens in Blue Ridge, Georgia or Athens, Georgia, but breaking up our capital city will impact everyone, and everyone will take this seriously.
A word about division and race. I agree. I don’t believe race has a role in the motivation of some to separate from Atlanta. But given that the Buckhead Community is overwhelmingly white, and nearly three times wealthier than the rest of the city, the racial implications will be obvious, especially as the issue of race is under examination throughout our country. We cannot ignore the fact that sometimes perception can be reality. And given our historic leadership of civil rights in Atlanta and the movement, we are the best when we come together during times of distress and not when we separate.
More about safety: As we began, I said that crime has reached an intolerable level and we all agree on that. Cityhood for Buckhead will only make it worse. If cityhood were to succeed, the rest of Atlanta will certainly be worse off, which would likely make Buckhead even more unsafe. We can’t build a checkpoint at Buckhead’s borders and keep people out. People travel. We’re a society in which folks travel freely. And our Buckhead merchants and restauranteurs depend on them.
Since becoming part of Atlanta in 1952, Buckhead has benefited from being part of our diverse and dynamic city. When Ivan Allen set us on an enlightened path to civil rights that made us the capital of the New South, Buckhead benefited. When Andrew Young and Billy Payne brought the Olympics to Atlanta, Buckhead benefited. When Sam Massell brought Federal money to create the MARTA system, Buckhead benefited. And when Atlanta’s research universities foster startups and help attract corporate locations, Buckhead benefits.
Buckhead is essential to Atlanta and Atlanta’s essential to Buckhead. So, let’s choose the faster, better, cheaper way of accomplishing our mutual goals: ending crime and making government accountable to us. Let’s work together to elect an entirely new government in November. We will have our result before January instead of then beginning the legislative process and years of litigation.
And while I may miss the old Sears at Peachtree and West Paces Ferry Road, the truth is that this city has given me and all of us, great opportunity through its growth – through the Civic and Business Leaders like you who made our prosperity possible. I owe them a lot. We owe them a lot. It’s now in our hands not to squander their generosity, and our collective success, and our futures. I thank you for your time.
Mary Norwood: Thank you, Linda. Thank you. And now it is for clarification, not for debate, but the first group is back up to give whatever clarification you would like and any additional comments but not a “He Said; She Said” please.
Bill White: Absolutely. So, thank you Mary. Well Linda, thank you very much. I was taking some notes and then it got to the point where I honestly couldn’t keep up with the inaccuracies. So, I We’ll work with you all to try to answer a lot of the misinformation that was provided. I hope that you will all be able to have a chance to look at both scenarios. I’m very glad that Linda lives in Buckhead and is so passionate about this and I thank you for helping to shine a light on your perspective.
We are very concerned that the people of Buckhead have an opportunity simply to have a vote. We are not setting up a city tomorrow. We are not setting up a city in this upcoming session, so many of the things that Linda mentioned which are indeed inaccurate and I will straighten those things out as best as I can. I’ve tried to take notes, but I will, I will keep up with you Mary. If I can get the minutes, I’ll address each one of those and I will be happy to share that with the Buckhead Coalition as well. But the status quo cannot stand, and we are not going to bet waiting on a new mayor whoever that might be. The chances of us electing a mayor that is going to be radically different than from what’s going on here today is, I would say, less than zero. So, as we said, “The divorce is final. We are moving forward.”
And I think what everybody on this call I hope could agree on is that the folks who live in Buckhead, families, children, livelihoods, businesses, so many people are for us. So many businesses, members of the Buckhead Coalition, former chairmen and leaders of the Buckhead Coalition who actually live in Buckhead are very supportive of what we’re doing, and they are contributing and driving us forward. So, all we’re asking to do is to allow the right to vote for every registered voter and what the City of Buckhead will be, and that is a Divine sacred right. And then the issue of all the things that Linda did address, which we are absolutely doing our due diligence on, and we can disclose much of that to you all, is being very diligently worked on and I have great confidence that we will have a very wonderful partnership in both cities are established and that’s our response.
Mary Norwood: Linda, you have a chance to respond but let me just say that we are recording this meeting. It is being streamed and so people can see it there and what Gordon and I do together is to get minutes out very quickly. So, what we will do is to get those prepared and then each of you can attach an addendum to the minutes giving your presentation, your thoughts, given after all this conversation. And so, each of you can attach what you would like everyone who’s come to this meeting and everyone else who goes to our website to see. We will get that up. I am quite sure Gordon, you and I work pretty quickly. So, we should get that done in the next four or five days. So, it won’t be something that three months from now and you’re still waiting.
Linda Klein: I appreciate what Mr. White has said, but I can’t really respond because he just said that I said things that were inaccurate, and so I don’t know what he believes that I said was inaccurate. So, I guess we’re going to have to wait until the transcript is available for me to respond. I’m not representing anybody who’s raising money or trying to do anything except express what my opinion is. And it’s my personal opinion. We’re neighbors. We’re not enemies. We share a concern about the way the city’s going. We disagree on a solution. That’s the focus of our discussion and I am hoping that everybody in listening to what I’ve had to say understands that the election is coming up in less than six months and we have an opportunity and, it seems to me, that we should take that chance. We should work together, and we should make sure that we elect an entire new city government that will listen to us. And that’s what I intend to do.
Mary Norwood: Thank you, thank you very much. Thank you both.
Important Editor’s Note: The following responses were requested at the meeting and were provided to BCN weeks after the BCN’s meeting.
Addenda to BCN Meeting Presentations on the topic of Buckhead Cityhood
Buckhead Exploratory Committee’s Response
Provided by Bill White
The following is the Buckhead Exploratory Committee’s response to Linda Klein on the issue of Buckhead’s referendum:
The City of Atlanta and their coordinated opposition group have failed to acknowledge in their initial correspondence that the legislature simply allows for a public vote to be held to allow the public to decide if Buckhead City is to remain in Atlanta or if we will be allowed to create our own government. The opposition to our efforts is an attempt to deny our community the right to vote on our destiny.
As for our sponsors – our house and senate bill are sponsored by elected officials who are on the Fulton County legislative delegation. Both are concerned about the spike in violent crime in Atlanta. The committee rules require that our sponsors be members of our county’s legislative delegation – which we have fulfilled.
In the history of discussions about Buckhead splitting away from Atlanta – no group or movement has gotten as far as this group has progressed. In the state senate – our bill has been signed by the leadership of the committee, to which our legislation will be sent. In the house – the legislation is strongly supported by members of the Governmental Affairs Committee, and we have been meeting with the members of both committees for months.
Further – If the Buckhead City movement was as far-fetched, then the City of Atlanta and the Buckhead Coalition executives would not be using their resources to oppose our efforts.
On the issue of debt, much of Atlanta’s bond debt is paid through the Water and Sewer system or through operations of the Airport, neither of which should be meaningfully altered by Buckhead City operating as a separate entity. As of June 30, 2020, approximately 84% of the City of Atlanta’s outstanding long-term bond debt is revenue debt related to “Business-type Activities” such as the operation of the City’s water and sewer system or Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport. These enterprise revenue bonds are typically payable from revenues generated from the business-type activities that they were issued to support. These activities should be largely unaffected by the de-annexation of Buckhead City. Residents of Buckhead City will remain water and sewer customers of the City of Atlanta for the foreseeable future and will continue to contribute to system operations and debt payments through their watershed management bill payments as they do now. Airport operations will not materially change if Buckhead City is no longer part of Atlanta. The remaining general government bond obligations will be paid on a proportional basis, which lowers Atlanta’s total burden.
On the issue of pensions, the City of Atlanta reports a total Net Pension Liability of just over $1.1 billion. These are obligations to employees that have been promised but not fully funded for decades. Buckhead City would be obligated to fund a proportional share of this accrued liability. In addition, Buckhead City would likely offer its employees a defined contribution retirement plan rather than a defined-benefit plan, as operated by the City of Atlanta. This would prevent Buckhead City from incurring additional new obligations related to employee benefits.
The bonds rating agencies each use their own methodology in assigning ratings to city governments but will generally use criteria that focus on the City’s economy and tax base, finances, management, and debt.
Buckhead City is expected to immediately score quite well in a number of categories that the rating agencies consider when determining bond ratings. Such metrics include the overall value of the tax base, per capita tax base value, and median family income. It will take some time to develop a demonstrable track record of sound fiscal management. Buckhead City should be able to achieve top bond ratings by persistently administering Buckhead City’s finances in a prudent manner.
We confirmed with one of Sandy Springs city founders that their overall water bill did not go up when they incorporated. We also respectfully ask the opposition to take a deeper look at Sandy Springs’s successes aside from the water rates. Residents are much happier to see a return on their tax dollars and to see the money be re-invested locally with increased services and benefits – All without raising taxes. Maybe the opposition should look into the relative crime rates and policing in Sandy Springs as well. There was a 35% drop in burglaries when they became a city. Sandy Springs, in a few short years, has been able to establish a FULLY staffed, well-equipped, well-trained, and well-respected police department. This is in contrast to the COA police department that is hemorrhaging staff to the point where some 911 calls go to voicemail.
We agree that voting for a new government for the City of Atlanta is important, but we question: why can’t we do both? Our stats keep getting worse. We humbly disagree that this is a distraction from COA elections. We have families, and we feel very strongly that our primary job is to protect them and not hope for the best. The Buckhead Exploratory Committee is comprised of volunteer leaders within our own community that came together to bring back safety to our beloved neighborhoods.
In closing – our movement is moving forward with a positive vision of an improved Buckhead, Atlanta, and region. We need our people who live in Buckhead and suffer the consequences of an unsafe community to remain strong and take the words of our opposition for what they are – a coordinated effort to deny you your right to vote.
Committee for a United Atlanta’s Response
Provided by Linda Klein
The Committee for a United Atlanta has been created by individuals with deep roots in the Buckhead Community. We share the concerns of all Buckhead residents with the serious issues facing Atlanta but believe that carving up the city will only result, in the long run, in a decline in the quality of life in our community.
- Instead, we believe we should fight for reform and change through the electoral process, not by creating a new and expensive bureaucracy. An important election for mayor and city council is coming up in November and we should be uniting with concerned citizens throughout Atlanta to combat crime, improve city services, and protect our neighborhoods.
- We do not know the names of the contributors to the Buckhead City movement, but the BEC claims it has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Our Committee for a United Atlanta has been formed to present the hard questions the BEC has not addressed, the practical difficulties in carving up Atlanta, the financial burdens a new city and its residents will face, and the problems a Buckhead City will not solve.
- The proponents of a Buckhead City misunderstand the basic requirements to carve up the City of Atlanta. As originally explained in the presentation, before a Buckhead City can even be considered, there must first be a separate bill to de annex the portions of Buckhead it wants to use to create a separate city. This requires what is called local legislation. A majority of the local delegation must agree to it before it can be considered by the full General Assembly body. There has been no bill introduced in either the House or the Senate proposing to de annex portions of Buckhead and no evidence that a majority of either the Atlanta or Fulton delegation is supportive of de annexation. More specifically, no state senator or representative representing the Buckhead area has supported de annexing Buckhead.The two legislators who the proponents claim as supporters of a Buckhead City are fine public servants. However, the proponents’ claims are misleading on several points. First, while the House bill sponsored by Rep. Todd Jones of Forsyth County has been “dropped in the hopper,” the proponents of Buckhead City failed to get the bill formally introduced in the 2021 General Assembly session. Furthermore, the bill, contrary to the assertions of the proponents of a Buckhead City has no co-sponsors. See https://www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/60883. More significantly, there is not even a Senate bill at this time. The Senate bill which proponents state is sponsored by Senator Brandon Beach of Alpharetta has not even been “dropped in the hopper” let alone filed in the Senate. Please see listing of bills introduced by Senator Beach which does not include a proposed Buckhead City bill. https://www.legis.ga.gov/members/senate/840?session=1029. You are also invited to search for “Buckhead City” bills on the General Assembly at https://www.legis.ga.gov/search?k=buckhead&s=1029&p=1. In short, the House bill has not even been fully introduced, the House bill has no co-sponsors, and there is not even a Senate bill formally introduced at this time.
- Who gets to vote? Should a Buckhead City bill somehow get out of the General Assembly, it will not be about allowing the Buckhead Community as a whole or “the public” to vote on whether to form a city. BEC advocates in the past have made it clear they do not intend to include all of Buckhead. Therefore, only those parts of our community in the proposed Buckhead City will be deemed worthy to vote. We do not know which neighborhoods will be “written in” and which be excluded. Our community of neighborhoods and their residents deserve to know their status in the eyes of the Buckhead City proponents.
- Neighborhoods that include City of Atlanta owned assets need to ask themselves how much might the new Buckhead City need to pay to buy our parks or our fire houses or our police stations? Those issues did not befall Sandy Springs because it was created out of unincorporated portions of our County. The public schools in Buckhead are owned by APS but a new city will place these facilities outside its required charter student boundaries. Under Georgia’s Constitution, a new city school district cannot be created (GA Constitution, Article 8, Section 5, Paragraph 1), so who will be responsible for our children’s education and where will they go to school? The BEC has not addressed this basic question.
- A Buckhead City cannot avoid the considerable debt obligations of the City of Atlanta. Only one other attempt has been made in Georgia to carve up a city and form a new one. This involved the City of Stockbridge (which is a relatively small city of approximately 22,000) and a proposed City of Eagles Landing. (To reiterate the above points, this proposed de annexation of the existing city and creation of a new one was only possible because a majority of the local delegation agreed to both the de annexation and the creation of the new proposed city and was strongly pushed by legislators representing the area. That simply does not exist in the case of the proposed Buckhead City.) In the attempt to divide up the City of Stockbridge and form a City of Eagles Landing, the proposed new city was required by the General Assembly and the Governor to assume its share of the existing debt of the City of Stockbridge. See lines 1283-85 of the Eagles Landing bill https://www.henryherald.com/news/eagles-landing-to-take-part-of-stockbridge-s-debt-if-approved/article_c26fb0fa-ad57-5160-9668-f98b368da8ef.html. According to the attorneys involved in the lawsuit over the issue, the residents of Eagles Landing, if the City had been formed, would have been obligated to a portion of the debt equal to its share of property taxes. https://www.henryherald.com/news/eagles-landing-to-take-part-of-stockbridge-s-debt-if-approved/article_c26fb0fa-ad57-5160-9668-f98b368da8ef.html. The debt that the proposed City of Eagles Landing was going to have to assume was a large part of the reason why the voters rejected it.If there is a Buckhead City, it will have to take on a large amount of the debt owed by the City of Atlanta including vested but not fully funded pension debt. The total amount of debt that a Buckhead City will be responsible for is not yet totally known and more study will need to be performed than BEC has so far conducted. However, at a minimum we know that approximately $588 million in bond debt is secured directly and primarily by property taxes. Since forty to forty-five percent of city property tax revenue is collected from Buckhead, the residents of Buckhead likely will be responsible for this portion of the debt. In addition, as acknowledged by the BEC in their response, a new city will also be responsible for its portion of the city’s unfunded pension obligations which is estimated to be approximately $1.1 billion. These items are just the beginning of a future Buckhead City’s debt responsibilities.
- We cannot build check points at each entrance to Buckhead to protect us from the problems facing our community. As outlined in the original presentation, the push for a Buckhead City is a dangerous distraction at this critical time just before important city elections. The proponent for Buckhead City scoffed at the focus on the elections saying that he was only interested in a “divorce” from Atlanta. Divorce involves courts. Lawsuits will likely be brought, as they were in Stockbridge, by bond holders seeking to keep their collateral in place. Talking about divorce from Atlanta will only suppress candidate interest in Buckhead and weaken both our electoral voice to demand needed change and our ability to build coalitions with other parts of the city. Let’s work together to increase voter interest in our commonly held concerns and increase voter turn-out in Buckhead this November and not risk our future on a Buckhead City of unknown boundaries that might be on the ballot in 2022. Thank you.
Editor’s Note: These minutes now resume in reporting presentations as they actually occurred during May 13’s meeting.
Threat to SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL ZONING
Gloria Cheatham: Incoming President Tuxedo Park
Bob Irvin: former State Senator
Mary Norwood: We now, we’ll go to our next topic, which is extraordinarily important to Buckhead. And first up is Gloria Cheatham. Gloria Cheatham is the incoming president of The Tuxedo Park Civic Association, my neighborhood, and she did a tremendous amount of research and submitted a letter to the city officials along with the chairs of NPUs A, B, C. So, our leadership in our neighborhood planning units in Buckhead all joined together on the on the letter that she wrote. I would like for her to give you her thoughts and then she will be followed by Bob Irvin who also has been very involved in this issue Gloria.
Gloria Cheatham: Yes, hi everybody. Y’all are probably wondering why there are two people here to speak on the Housing Initiative when the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods has already signed off on a resolution detailing the many problems Buckhead neighborhoods have with the city’s proposal to allow apartments and even separate stand-alone homes to be built on all single family lots in the city.
Here’s the deal, a couple of us, Bob Irvin and myself primarily, decided to read the city’s Housing Initiative from the very beginning all the way through to the bitter end. And there’s a heck of a lot more in it than we thought. And some of the provisions: There’s a lot in this Housing Initiative that is good the city, and things that we can support. Our concerns here are the zoning provisions. In addition to the city’s plan to eliminate single-family zoning. There are several provisions that you all need to know about because some of them are even worse than the city’s proposal to allow second homes to be built on all single-family houses and subdivided off in lots that apparently do not have to comply with zoning provisions, subdivision provisions or anything else.
The biggest one to my mind, but even within the NPU leadership (and I’m also a board member of NPUA), there’s some disagreement of which provision is worse, but it’s fair to say that there are quite a few provisions that are very bad – not just for Buckhead neighborhoods – but for neighborhoods all over the city.
One of those is a provision to reduce minimum lot sizes throughout the city. We do not know exactly what the city has in mind, when it says that minimum lot sizes will be reduced. We have made the assumption, which I believe is a very reasonable and fair one, that what the city will do is to take every particular single-family zone down a notch. What that would mean is that the Paces Neighborhood and the other neighborhoods that are over near the river where there’s R-1 zoning – that that R-1 would probably be reduced from a 2-acre minimum to a one-acre minimum. Moving on down the line: R-2 zoning which affects a great many Buckhead neighborhoods, which is currently one acre and likely be taken down to approximately four tenths of an acre. It is stated in terms of square footage, so it’s not exactly four tenths, but it roughs out to about that amount, it would, that would likely mean that R-3 zoning, which affects many, many neighborhoods in Buckhead – would likely be bumped down to half its current lot size, which would mean that it would go from approximately 4/10 of an acre to 2/10 of an acre.
If the city takes it on down further to R-4 zoning, which does affect some of the planned developments that have been made throughout Buckhead on subdividing out some of our formerly, very large lots – that those lots would likely be, I said to our own neighborhood, my own neighborhood Tuxedo Park on Monday night at our meeting that they’ll probably be reduced to something down to about the size of a picture postcard.
I know I don’t have to tell you all, who deal with developers all the time, as developers are very interested in some subdividing anything in Buckhead, because that’s what they do; this is their job; they make money doing this. But by making these changes – these zoning changes of reducing minimum lot size – that would allow the subdivision of all properties within the affected zones to be subdivided, as a matter of right.
So, think about that for a minute of what that would mean not just in our neighborhoods but other popular neighborhoods like West End and East Atlanta and other neighborhoods which are subject to gentrification where developers are all over them like “white on rice.”
In all of these neighborhoods where money is being made, reducing minimum lot size will be a bonanza beyond developers’ wildest dreams. Bob Irvin has called it and said to me at one point when we were talking about all this, that they ought to name this ordinance, the “Developers Feeding Frenzy Ordinance” because that’s exactly what’s going to happen. Developers will cannibalize our properties and in so doing, they will likely devastate our tree canopy and a lot of what makes Atlanta, which is our “city in the forest” and our trees, and our tree canopy that provide it. They are tree canopy positions us rather uniquely to be able to deal with issues of climate change, and carbon emissions, etc. Because we have the trees to help with that. Our trees are also a big boon to us with respect to stormwater management.
Think is through: the elimination of single-family zoning and the reduction of minimum lot sizes are not “either/or.” They are “both/and” which means that what the city is proposing is to reduce our lot sizes, likely by half and then to also allow for apartments and additional stand-alone homes to be built on every one of those now half size lots. That has the effect of quadrupling the density of all single-family neighborhoods in the city.
But wait – that’s not all. There are other zoning provisions in the Housing Initiative, one of which is to allow small apartment buildings, as of right, in all neighborhoods within a half mile of the MARTA station, that of course and by small apartment buildings, they say that’s anywhere from three to as many as 12 units. These are 12 units and most of those neighborhoods are probably R-3. So, they are on four tenths of an acre right now, if the City bumps that down to two tenths of an acre, that’s a 12-unit apartment building on two-tenths of an acre and wait that’s not all.
The city also is proposing to eliminate al – 100% of all – off-street parking requirements in the entire city. Not just in residential, but even commercial. And all of those people who – at least potentially – because this is allowable density. (Nobody’s going to take your house and divide up your light into four little pieces today, but the buyer of your neighbor’s house might do it, and clearly might do it.)
But all of those additional people, the city is looking of a goal of 10,000 people per square mile. All of those additional people are going to be parking on the street. Think about that for a minute.
And wait that’s not all the city is proposing to do all of this (this is what we have been told) in an ad-hoc ordinance unconnected to the comprehensive development plan. And that means that it is outside the infrastructure planning process that would deal with traffic and stormwater management and schools and all of those things that are necessary to accommodate four times the density in the City of Atlanta.
I really pondered on this one because to me, it really begs the question: Why is the city going after density of this level? It’s not because Atlanta needs to have density of this level. The city did a marvelous study and design plan several years ago, that Tim Keane himself did. It’s called the Atlanta City Design and it says in exactly these words – that there is enough room in designating Growth areas and in an in designated corridors like the Beltline to accommodate Atlanta’s projected growth without encroaching on any existing neighborhood.
It’s also not because this is necessary and that this will produce affordable housing. Atlanta’s affordable housing crisis is very real, and we need to find ways to deal with it. But right now, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported varies recently that developers are building half million-dollar condos on Bankhead Highway – that once blighted area. If they’re building half million-dollar condos on Bankhead Highway, do you really think that they are going to try to further Atlanta’s affordable housing goals in popular neighborhoods, like West End and East Atlanta and Tuxedo Park where I live. Of course not. These developers are going to build the most expensive and biggest structures they think they can sell on the smallest part of real estate they can get because that’s what they do. That’s how they make their living.
Mary Norwood: We have. We been you, if you’ll wrap up your presentation, so that we can get Bob.
Gloria Cheatham: As you all know, I’m real passionate about this, but I will leave it to Bob to talk about all the stuff that everybody can do. To help us deal with this because this is a truly an all-Atlanta issue and we need to be dealing with it.
Mary Norwood: Thank you so much, Gloria, and thank you for your work. Gloria read every single page of every single publication and produced an amazing amount of documentation for us to work from and I’m very grateful for that. And so is the entire Buckhead Council of neighborhoods and Bob Irvin the former minority whip of the state senate legislative elected official for many years. We’re glad to have you here.
And we’ve been joined by councilwoman, Natalyn Archibong. Thank you for being here. We appreciate your being here. And if Lee Morris is on one of our many pages, we’re glad you’re here too.
Bob Irvin: I appreciate the chance to be here. Appreciate you arranging the meeting. I’m actually the former minority leader of that house, but it was close. I represented Buckhead, I represented Fulton County in the State House 15 years and representative Buckhead for nine of those years. Not for all of them, because of reapportionment.
But I’d be hard-pressed to say that crime is not the number one concern in the city, I think it is, but I would say right behind it is zoning and land use and zoning. And land use is an evergreen issue. In years when we get the crime rate down, zoning and land use is still an issue that the people are worried about. And right now, is Gloria has outlined. I don’t want to repeat what Gloria said, but I do want to underline things in it.
The city administration has on the table a proposal to gut the protections for single-family residential neighborhoods. This includes proposals to end single-family zoning; to reduce minimum lot sizes; to eliminate parking requirements; to build apartments anywhere within a half mile of the MARTA station and to allow anybody to do all of this by absolute right? Without any approval of, or even notification to the NPU.
Now, these proposals would gut the zoning protections that Atlanta neighborhoods have relied on, including the NPU process that has worked well for the last 50 years for all of us. Every homeowner in the city, northside Southside, Eastside, Westside, black, white, every kind of homeowner in the city should be against these and we hear more and more opposition to them every day from around the city.
The mayor announced this proposal in December. The details came out in a document called the Atlanta City Design Housing from the city planning department, that’s what Gloria was referring to that. She and I both read, and a few other people have read it too. I’d encourage everybody to Google “Atlanta City Design Housing” and read it yourself. It’s a long document. The zoning portion starts about halfway through. And what’s really fundamentally happening is they’re trying to deceive people about their intent by lumping these zoning proposals together with their Housing Initiative. We’re not against affordable housing. We’re FOR fordable housing. What we’re AGAINST is gutting, single-family zoning. It’s important to keep these two issues separate and not let the folks on the other side conflate them.
Now in the last couple of weeks, the mayor seems to have begun backing away from this proposal, but it hasn’t been withdrawn. And even if it is withdrawn, we want to ensure that it isn’t picked up again by the next Administration or by the next Council. The local politicians need to hear from us, from us all, about this during this election season. The Buckhead Council of Neighborhood has been referenced – they took a vote on it in March and passed it by a vote of 89%. I think that’s probably an unprecedented vote by the BCN.
There have been questions asked and meetings held. There will be more in there, should be more, and over the next few months, every city office holder and every candidate for mayor city council president and city council in Atlanta, should be asked about this as many times as we can get people to make it happen. We’d like to get commitments from all these office holders and candidates to oppose this. But what we’re really trying to do is make sure they hear about it a lot and that they realize how many people are concerned about this kind of proposal? This has been adopted and they will tell you that this has been adopted in some other places in the country. It’s happened in the dark every place that has happened.
So, everybody on this call, please seek out every opportunity that you have to ask the question: At public forums at meetings whether they’re public or private; the private conversations, ask it orally, ask it in writing, ask it every chance you get. The questions don’t all have to be perfect. I’ve been referring to it myself is “ending single-family zoning” as a shorthand, though obviously it is more involved in that, and I encourage you again to read the Atlanta City Design Housing document and familiarize yourself with all of the facets of it.
Language is important: We’re for affordable housing. This is not about affordable housing. What we’re against is gutting the zoning protections that neighborhoods rely on and have relied on for all these years and we can’t let the other side conflate these two issues.
We are FOR affordable housing. We are AGAINST gutting the zoning protections and it’s important to get that language right. I suggest letting any candidate that you ask know how you feel about this. Don’t let them guess how you feel about it. Say “I’m against it and I want to know whether you’re against it.” Don’t assume that because someone else has asked it at some time that it doesn’t need asking again. Again, the goal is to make sure that the candidates for city office this year hear as much about it as possible, so they will know how many people are concerned about. That’s all I got Mary.
Mary Norwood: Okay, thank you Bob. Thank you. And now, I would like to ask Denise Starling, who is on our call to, please update us on the affordable housing initiative, that Livable Buckhead is doing. Denise, tell us about your Grant? Because this goes straight to the heart of the fact that Buckhead is not opposed to affordable housing. As Bob said, we are opposed to gutting the zoning. And Denise has a wonderful announcement. That many of you may not have heard and I want her to be able to tell us Denise.
Denise Starling: I’d like to share with you all that the Atlanta Regional Commission has just awarded us a grant of $80,000, which the livable Buckhead board will be matching with $20,000 to take our housing effort to the next level. We will be digging into Employer-Assisted Housing to figure out exactly how we make that happen and set up a model not only for Buckhead but also the city of Atlanta. So, we’ll be starting that work later this year and look forward to developing that and working with y’all to do it.
Mary Norwood: And just to clarify what this is. The Council of Neighborhoods endorsed this concept two years ago as did Livable Buckhead. Denise’s Housing and Commuting Study referenced this – which is if we can have employees who work in Buckhead at the lower end of the pay scale, be able to live in Buckhead in subsidized housing. So, in an apartment complex, an employee can come and get an affordable rent through an Employer-Assisted program where employer would help; the apartment complex can help in reducing the rate so that that employee can live there. And then Denise, by tapping into the Atlanta Regional Commission and the public possibility of funding that we have as a city, has made great strides toward making this a reality. The City of Atlanta has authorized between fifty and a hundred million dollars of housing bonds for affordable housing. So, there is a lot of City money that is already out there that could be part of this. So what Denise is talking about is looking at the public money, the employer contribution, the apartments associations and an individual apartment contributions and coming up with a way that we can have lots of wonderful employees who work in Buckhead everyday – if they choose to not have to drive two hours to get here, can be provided with wonderful housing.
So, I am thrilled because when it’s a hundred thousand dollars to make this happen, it all of a sudden gets very real. So, thank you, Denise for your work in getting that done. This is the end of today. We have heard from both sides of the City of Buckhead issue.
We are going to answer all of the chat questions. We are not going to try to do that right now, but we are going to get all those answers back to people.
Gordon and Rick, thank you so much for helping put this together. They will be getting all of those chat comments and because you all signed up to be here, we have your email addresses. You will get all of the information from tonight and all of the follow-up information that will be necessary.
Gordon Certain, Secretary – Adoption of Minutes
The March 2021 BCN Meeting Minutes were not considered for adoption since the meeting ran late.
Next BCN Meeting Planned for September 2021
Mary Norwood: Our next meeting will be in September. At that point. We will have candidates for our city offices. So. we will have candidates there, hopefully live, but if it is Zoom again, it will be Zoom again but we hope to see everyone in person in September when we will have a candidate Forum or Round table or whatever. Thank you all. Have a great summer we will continue to be working and always reach out to me and to any other member of the Board of the Buckhead Council of Neighborhoods. Thank you so much.
Editor’s Note: These minutes were prepared by BCN’s Secretary Gordon Certain with ample help from Mary Norwood. Internet software available from Sonix.ai was employed to prepare a substantially accurate word-for-word transcription using the audio from the Zoom meeting. Once the initial transcript is generated, Sonix allows the editor to then listen to the audio and concurrently read the transcript to make corrections and adjustments to the transcript as needed to improve its accuracy. Some presenter statements have been reworded for clarity or to improve grammar.