Merry Hills/Toco Hills area annexation referendum could be added to November ballot

The future of more than 400 acres of land in unincorporated DeKalb County that could soon become city of Brookhaven property may come down to a referendum vote during November elections.

After two back-to-back meetings – one hosted by DeKalb County commissioners and one hosted by Brookhaven City Council – in which homeowners, renters and those with businesses in the area questioned the validity of a petition for annexation, as well as a lack of transparency and communication, Brookhaven City Council held a special called meeting in June 30 where they approved a resolution calling for Dekalb County’s consent to a referendum vote.

To place the referendum on the ballot in November, both the city of Brookhaven and DeKalb County must approve the referendum question, according to Brookhaven officials.

Expanding on what was approximately 462 total acres of unincorporated DeKalb County that includes the Toco Hill Shopping Center, Brookhaven’s resolution now requests that DeKalb County authorize and allow a referendum on annexation in the entire unincorporated areas south of Interstate 85, west of Clairmont Road, and north of the Atlanta city limits before Brookhaven’s next regularly scheduled meeting on July 25.

If DeKalb County does not authorize the referendum question to be added to ballot, the city of Brookhaven is required to honor the annexation application received from residents and businesses in the annexation area, which passed the 60 percent threshold required to proceed, according to Brookhaven officials.

“Brookhaven is following the state law and honoring the wishes of hundreds of property owners and registered voters in unincorporated DeKalb County,” said Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst. “We heard that people want keep neighborhoods together and have a vote on this issue. Thus, Brookhaven City Council and I take up DeKalb County’s suggestion and we urge the county to put the annexation on the ballot this fall. This requires DeKalb County to agree to give voters a chance and we encourage the county to let the residents vote.”

At the June 30 special called meeting, Ernst acknowledged “there were several concerns raised during the (June 27 and June 28) public meetings” about the annexation petition. The two meetings drew large crowds with numerous attendees voicing concerns about gerrymandering, splitting up neighborhoods, and forgery of signatures on the petition.

Multiple business owners in the area, including Herbert Ames, managing director of EDENS, a national real estate developer that partially owns the Toco Hill Shopping Center, also attended the meetings and spoke against being annexed into Brookhaven.

While DeKalb County officials had not confirmed if the referendum will be added to the November ballot at press time, DeKalb County’s Chief Legal Officer Viviane Ernstes said her department has been going through the approximately 1,700-page document since it was received in early June to verify that it passes the 60 percent threshold required to proceed and investigate many of the concerns brought up by those within or close to the annexation area.

“Brookhaven prides itself on its openness and transparency, and in the public participation process regarding the annexation that has already been submitted, there were several concerns raised during public meetings,” said Ernst. “A popular referendum would allay all concerns, so I call upon our partners in DeKalb County to let the people vote on whether they would like to be in the city of Brookhaven.”

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This is a developing story.



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