Clarkston officials allege Tucker suit is attempt to thwart affordable housing project

The location of the affordable housing complex. Image obtained via Google Maps

This story has been updated. 

Clarkston, GA — Clarkston City Council member Jamie Carroll says that the city of Tucker could have ended a year-old lawsuit between the cities over four acres of land Clarkston illegally annexed, but the city of Tucker won’t settle.

He and Clarkston’s former mayor claim Tucker has an ulterior motive in keeping the litigation going: blocking an affordable housing project on its border along East Ponce de Leon Avenue.

“They want to block the entire project because they don’t want affordable housing right on the border of Tucker,” Carroll said.

Tucker maintains the issue is about the illegal annexation of its land and has nothing to do with the apartment complex that would have 188 units and would offer rental units for people making up to 60 percent of the area median income.

Clarkston Mayor Beverly Burks declined to comment on Tucker’s motivation for not settling the lawsuit but said both cities can end it and provide affordable housing to people who need it. She noted the affordable housing project is nearly complete and will provide nearly 200 affordable units.

“It would be a travesty if we as local municipalities could not come together to find a viable solution for our community,” Burks said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Tucker, through its spokesperson, denied it has an objection to affordable housing. Tucker city councilmembers did not return messages seeking comment for this story.

“On advice of counsel, none of our staff or elected officials will be commenting on pending litigation,” city spokesperson Matt Holmes said. “It is important to note that at no point in this process have any of our staff or elected officials referred to – or been motivated by – the affordable housing aspect of this project.

“Plain and simple, this has been motivated by the fact that a previous Clarkston administration incorrectly used property that was not in the City of Clarkston to satisfy zoning requirements for the project. This narrative about affordable housing is a tactic to deflect from the real issue and try to paint Tucker in a negative light, an attempt aimed at impacting the judge’s decision and the public’s perception.”

Tucker last year sued Clarkston, the Housing Authority of DeKalb County and a developer building the affordable apartment complex along 4692 East Ponce de Leon Avenue. The plan has a major problem, the city of Tucker noted. The property in question is partially in the city of Tucker and couldn’t legally have been annexed by the city of Clarkston back in 2018.

The city of Clarkston is attempting to settle the matter by deannexing the disputed land, Carroll says, but that must be approved by the county.

“The judge has said, once that happens, that would resolve everything,” Carroll said. “They get their land back. You would think Tucker would want that.”

However, Tucker has decided to fight the deannexation and the county deferred the proposed deannexation from its Nov. 16 meeting to a meeting in December.

DeKalb County Commissioner Ted Terry, Clarkston’s former mayor, called the tenor of the Tucker lawsuit “mean spirited and hostile.”

Carroll said the litigation could’ve been resolved by now.

“They’re fighting us from us giving back the land,” Carroll said. “They could have had the land back months ago.”

Carroll said the lawsuit is unnecessary because Clarkston has “tried everything we can,” including mediation with Tucker. He said Tucker Mayor Frank Auman and Tucker City Council member Anne Lerner were involved in the discussions with Clarkston officials.

According to Carroll, the four acres belonging to Tucker are wetlands that legally cannot be built upon. The affordable housing units are built entirely on land in Clarkston. The site will also include an early learning center, Terry said.

At the Nov. 16 DeKalb County Board of Commissioners meeting, an ordinance to deannex the disputed property was deferred to a special called meeting on Dec. 7. DeKalb County Attorney Viviane Ernstes said the county needs more time to consider it.

During the DeKalb Commissioner’s meeting, Mark Ford, an attorney hired by the city of Tucker, said the ordinance to de-annex the property is not legal because it never belonged to Clarkston in the first place.

Holmes accused “others” of “trying to create an alternative narrative to bolster their case”

“We want to be clear this has always been about the illegal annexation of property within the City of Tucker,” Holmes said.

Carroll isn’t surprised by Tucker’s response to his claims.

“Of course, they won’t admit it,” said Carroll. “If it wasn’t affordable housing, then they would take our offer any time to give them back the four acres. That would have fixed the alleged annexation problem.”

Terry said Tucker, a larger, newer and wealthier city, is bullying Clarkston. He notes that Clarkston was supportive of Tucker when the city first formed, offering the city space for its municipal court at a “very affordable” rate.

“Instead of acting as a good neighbor, the city leaders in Tucker chose to waste and cause waste, with significant amounts of taxpayer funds on legal fees for all entities named in lawsuit,” Terry said. “Furthermore, the de-annexation (agenda item today) and opportunity for re-annexation of the disputed strip of undevelopable land back to Tucker is exactly what they asked for in their initial statements rationalizing this lawsuit.”

Burks said Clarkston is ready to resolve the dispute.

“The bottom line is we can come together and deannex this part of the property and move forward,” she said. “So, if that’s what you really want and we are willing to do whatever we can do to move forward, as well as making sure we can have housing for our residents, let’s come together and let’s work it out.”

Editor and Publisher Dan Whisenhunt contributed to this story.

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