GAINESVILLE - City officials are keeping quiet, citing ongoing litigation, but an arbitration panel has ruled in favor of Gainesville in a dispute with Hall County over plans by the city to annex 115 pieces of property.
This is the so-called "islands" annexation which goes back to last fall, and involves tracts surrounded by the city, ranging in size from .07 acre to 11.8 acres. And, it is not the first time recent years that such a dispute has erupted. The earlier one occurred in 2008. (See earlier stories.)
State law allows for the annexation of such properties without the consent of the owners.
Frank Jenkins III, the Cartersville attorney representing the city of Gainesville before arbitrators this week, said he is pleased with the decision.
"At the conclusion of the mediation, or arbitration, the panel said that they thought the zoning desingations made by the city were appropriate and therefore, they did not recommend any changes to those designations," said Jenkins. "Of course, on behalf of the city, we're very pleased that they found that what we had identified as the proper zoning was in fact what the panel found."
Jenkins confirmed that the county has 10 days to appeal the ruling of the five-member arbitration panel. He said the city is waiting at this point to see how the county will respond.
The county issued a statement Thursday morning saying it will continue to monitor the issue and determine if further action is needed.
"The Hall County Commission feels very strongly that the City of Gainesville's proposal to annex 115 parcels into the city limits was significant enough to warrant Commission action based upon various factors related to the annexation request itself and inquiries from property owners who conveyed concerns about their property being annexed into the city of Gainesville," the statement said. "As a result, the Hall County Commission filed a formal action objecting to the annexation proposal late last year.
The statement goes on to say the County Commission "firmly believes in the property rights of its citizens and believes citizens impacted by this annexation proposal should have had a voice in deciding whether or not they are annexed into the City of Gainesville. In this particular case, a number of property owners expressed their dissent at being forcibly annexed into the city. It was the County Commission's duty and responsibility to explore measures to remedy the matter and represent the interests of these Hall County citizens."
"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," County Administrator Randy Knighton added.
County Attorney Bill Blalock said the panel did not consider any procedural positions the county took, saying it didn't have jursidiction to consider it.
"That is, whether or not the city followed their own zoning ordinance in proceeding with the annexation."
"They did not give much credance to the fact that there were many conflicts between the county's future land use map and what the city was proposing as zoning with regard to its annexation," Blalock added.
He said what's next for the county depends on what the city does.
"We don't know exactly what their intentions are."