An apple and an orange.
That’s what folks are comparing when they talk about the incorporation of Sandy Springs and the movement to de-annex Buckhead from Atlanta in the same sentence.
It’s right there in the wording — de-annex versus incorporate. One is taking away; the other is taking in.
I know from experience. I was the Northside/Sandy Springs Neighbor editor when residents voted to form a new city in Georgia for the first time in 50 years. Now it seems we can’t go a calendar year without a new city popping up.
The public argument for Sandy Springs was influenced by the spirit of 1776 — taxation without representation, complete with the fife and drummer, the town crier and tricorne hats.
Fulton County was and is the most populous county in Georgia. It’s 534 square miles stretch from Palmetto and Chattahoochee Hills — well south of Atlanta — to Milton and Johns Creek — well north. Atlanta is Fulton’s core.
It is 70-plus miles long north to south and is comprised of land that previously spanned three counties: Campbell, Fulton and Milton. Because of the highways and byways, it would take an individual more than an hour to drive its length.
The shape defies logic. The southern end is a large triangle with its point broken off just south of Atlanta. It narrows to about two miles wide between Sandy Springs and Roswell, then explodes again into a bulbous mass of land, including Alpharetta, Johns Creek, Milton, Mountain Park and Roswell.
A few commissioners controlled the fate of the entire county, from zoning and development to greenspace and public safety.
Sandy Springs leaders said commissioners in south Fulton had no business determining these issues in a community in which they rarely stepped foot.
There was another wrinkle. If you want to know why Sandy Springs pushed so hard to create a city, look no further than the city to the south, by which I mean Atlanta.
Longtime Atlanta Mayor William B. Hartsfield saw the growing black voting bloc as a problem and pushed for the incorporation of predominantly white Buckhead in the 1940s. He made his concerns known in a letter sent to a few residents in 1943.
“The most important thing to remember cannot be publicized in the press or made the subject of public speeches,” he wrote. “Our negro population is growing by leaps and bounds. … Our migration is good white, home-owning citizens. With the federal government insisting on political recognition of negroes in local affairs, the time is not far distant when they will become a potent political force in Atlanta.”
Hartsfield repeatedly attempted to annex largely white Sandy Springs as well.
Buckhead was in unincorporated Fulton. Initially, leaders and residents wanted nothing to do with the city. A referendum failed in 1948. But a few years later, Buckhead reversed course and voted to join the city of Atlanta in 1952.
Sandy Springs successfully fended off the city’s land grab in 1950, and remained in incorporated Fulton. Hartsfield continued to woo the community even after he left office.
Just as the Buckhead residents had done on the first referendum, Sandy Springs leaders fought off the city’s repeated attempts at annexation. But they took a step that would have better protected Buckhead, introducing legislation every session to incorporate into their own city starting in the 1970s.
The tide turned in the 2004 election, when Republicans took control of state government. Democrats at the state level never gave the bill a shot.
In 2005, Sandy Springs residents voted 94% to form their own city.
State leaders carved Sandy Springs out of a no-man’s land between the cities of Atlanta and Roswell.
The de-annexation crowd wants to carve a city out of a city.
Fulton is home to 1 million residents. The city of Atlanta is home to about half that number. Atlanta is about 133 square miles.
De-annexationists will say it’s about taxation without representation.
It’s tough to feel well represented by seven county commissioners overseeing a logic-defying 500 square miles.
It’s less compelling when you have 12 city council members representing a quarter of that, with three directly responsible for your neighborhood, to say nothing of the three at-large posts, president and mayor.
I understand why de-annexation advocates want to frame it in the same light, but it doesn’t pass muster.