How Emory’s Atlanta Annexation Might Work

Emory University’s main campus almost abuts the boundary of the City of Atlanta near the intersection of Johnson Road and Briarcliff Road, but almost, as they say, only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades.

Emory University, as the AJC reports, has recently explored petitioning the City of Atlanta to annex Emory’s property into Atlanta’s city limits, but Georgia law requires properties seeking annexation into a city to actually abut the boundary of the city that that property wants to join.  O.C.G.A. 36-36-21 gives municipal corporations the power “to annex to the existing corporate limits thereof unincorporated areas contiguous to the existing corporate limits at the time of such annexation” when 100% of landowners in the unincorporated areas apply for annexation.  For an area to be considered “contiguous,” O.C.G.A. 36-36-20 requires “[a]t least one-eighth of the aggregate external boundary or 50 feet of the area to be annexed, whichever is less” to directly abut the city limits.

Emory found a solution; it bought a house.  According to the AJC, Emory bought a small house on Briarcliff Road, and Atlanta’s boundary runs through 72 feet of the backyard of that house.

But can such a small and unrelated piece of property allow the entirety of a large university campus to be annexed into the city?  Yes, according to O.C.G.A. 36-36-21, which applies since the landowner of all the properties (Emory) wants annexation and which explains that “[l]ands to be annexed at any one time shall be treated as one body, regardless of the number of owners, and all parts shall be considered as adjoining the limits of the municipal corporation when any one part of the entire body abuts such limits.”

The impetus behind Emory’s desire for annexation is the potential to gain access to a light-rail passenger train line that could be built with funds from a special-purpose sales tax approved by Atlanta citizens in a referendum last year.  State legislators have blocked residents of unincorporated DeKalb County, where Emory is currently located, from voting on a similar referendum there.

If Emory’s annexation does happen, the question of whether city leaders can justify spending special-purpose tax dollars on a project in an area that wasn’t part of the city when the referendum was held and that state legislators specifically excluded from that referendum is a story for another day (and maybe a lawsuit yet to be filed?).

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