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Newton, Social Circle resolve annexation dispute

COVINGTON - The litigation between Newton County and the city of Social Circle over the annexation of 1,150 acres is now officially resolved.

The two parties have entered into a consent order that was filed in Newton County Superior Court on Wednesday, agreeing that the annexation and simultaneous rezoning of the property are null and void.

The order was signed by attorneys for the county, city and property owners who petitioned for the annexation, acting as interveners in the case.

The Social Circle City Council repealed the annexation March 13, citing an "improper boundary description," Mayor Jim Burgess said.

"A technical flaw caused us to create an unincorporated island, and we can't do that," he said.

Because the property remained part of unincorporated Newton County, the rezoning is also null and void, the consent order states.

"There's no need to pursue litigation because the gist of the consent order is that the annexation was void at the time it was enacted and, furthermore, the rezoning was void at the time it was enacted," said James Griffin, a lawyer with the County Attorney's Office.

"The commissioners are pleased with the result," Griffin added.

Each party will be responsible for paying its own legal fees, according to the order.

The city annexed the property, located along the northern Interstate 20 right of way between Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. Highway 278, and rezoned it to mixed use business park in November 2006.

Shortly after, the county filed suit.

The ordeal spurred new state legislation regulating annexation disputes, authored by State Rep. Doug Holt, R-Social Circle.

Now, local governments submit disputed annexation requests to binding arbitration before an independent panel.

Previously, cities were free to ignore mediators' recommendations, which happened in the Social Circle case.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.