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County: Annexations driving up price of land

LAWRENCEVILLE - Annexation isn't just about controlling development; it's also costing Gwinnett County thousands of dollars more to build the Sugarloaf Parkway extension, county officials say.

Today, the board will vote to ask the Legislature for more control over annexations, an issue that has divided city and county officials for years.

But now, county officials say the issue is hitting taxpayers' wallets.

According to information tabulated by county staff, annexation and rezoning requests upped the price of at least three parcels in the path of the Sugarloaf extension.

In fact, the county began buying land when a proposed annexation to the city of Lawrenceville threatened to develop the land directly across from where the road currently ends at Ga. Highway 20.

According to the paperwork, the county paid $5.7 million for that property, which was the value of the 42 acres yielding 188 lots. Prior to the annexation request, the land would have yielded 146 lots, making the land worth $3.6 million.

Commissioner Mike Beaudreau, who represents the Sugarloaf extension area and requested the numbers be computed, said some cities have gone too far.

"The most glaring example right now is the price of this road," he said. "But it also affects the school system and the traffic on the road."

While current law does give the county a process to sound off against proposed annexations, the final decision on the land is left with the city. Beaudreau is asking for an arbitrator to decide disputes between the two governments.

Clash with Dacula

Earlier this month, Beaudreau fought with the Dacula City Council about an annexation at Alcovy Road. The council voted to annex and rezone the property two days after county officials agreed to condemn it for the road.

According to the county, the land increased in value from $943,575 to $1,107,675 because of the rezoning.

Dacula Mayor Jimmy Wilbanks said he could not comment on the county's numbers, but he said the county had time to buy the Alcovy Road parcel long before the annexation was considered.

"They had 18 months to buy the property while it was zoned R-100 (low-density residential)," he said. "Numbers are a wonderful way to look at things, but you have to balance numbers with property rights and fair market value."

Wilbanks said the city has only annexed land where the property owner requests to be inside the city boundaries, and he said few of those cases actually presented a rezoning that exceeded the county's land-use plan.

Another proposal on Stanley Road increased the value of 47 acres by nearly $500,000, according to the paperwork, although the county only purchased about 30 percent of the parcel.

Annexation statistics

In a position paper to be provided to legislators, county staff contend that residential development takes more tax dollars to service than it brings in. When a city annexes land and zones it to a higher density, it costs the county more money, especially when the county provides police protection, water and sewer and other services, such as the case with Dacula.

Since 2003, Gwinnett's 15 cities have considered 162 annexations, and the county opposed 23 of them.

This week, the Georgia Municipal Association posted on its Web site a 55-page report on an annexation study.

The report finds that about 0.26 of Georgia's land has been annexed between 2000 and 2005. This compares to 2.2 percent of Gwinnett's land during the same time period, according to the Gwinnett paper.

According to the GMA report, 68.4 percent of annexations are at the request of the property owner by the city council, with 29.9 percent done to eliminate islands, or unincorporated areas surrounded by city areas.

Amy Henderson, spokeswoman for the organization, which represents more than 500 cities in Georgia, pointed out that the county does not lose tax revenues when a city annexes land, and often land values go up, providing more tax money to the county.

She declined to comment on the county's report.