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Social Circle mayor urges more annexation

SOCIAL CIRCLE -- While one state legislator is pursuing legislation to de-annex a portion of Social Circle from Newton County, the mayor of Social Circle is encouraging property owners to annex into the city limits.

Social Circle resident Jenny Cole addressed the Social Circle City Council during its public meeting Tuesday to ask it to work toward aligning the city's zoning codes and ordinances with the surrounding counties'.

"I live in Walton County, but when the property near me was annexed into the city of Social Circle, I feel like we lost some of our rights, some of our protection because the city's codes don't mirror the county's," Cole said. "Let's review our ordinances and bring them up to standards. We need to make sure our codes and ordinances give people the protection they need."

In response, Mayor Jim Burgess asked those in attendance who live in Social Circle to raise their hands.

"To those who don't, I would encourage you to be annexed into Social Circle," he said.

Burgess said those within the incorporated city limits have many advantages, including lower taxes and representation on various boards.

"You could run for mayor," Burgess said with a chuckle.

"I would really encourage you to be a legal resident of the city," he said.

When Surrey Chase resident Bob Hapner stood to ask the council a question about the placement and removal of zoning signs, Burgess took the opportunity again to encourage him and his fellow neighbors to annex into Social Circle.

"We would love to have you in the city," the mayor said.

Burgess explained the four ways property owners can be annexed into the city of Social Circle, including through a local act of the Legislature, through the submission of a petition signed by 100 percent of the property owners in an area, the submission of a petition signed by 60 percent of the property owners who own 60 percent of the land or through a referendum of the voters.

He said it's ideal to annex vacant land so that as it's developed it is done so in accordance with city ordinances. Burgess said, for example, it is much more expensive and cumbersome to bring already-developed roads up to city standards with curbing and sidewalks.

Burgess' appeal that more property owners annex into the city of Social Circle comes on the heels of state Rep. Doug Holt's plans to introduce legislation that would de-annex a portion of Newton County that was brought into the city limits in 2008.

Holt, R-Social Circle, said earlier this month that he has crafted legislation that would de-annex property that is at the center of a zoning controversy. Before the legislation can be introduced, he needs the signatures of the other two state legislators who represent Social Circle, Rep. Jeff May, R-Monroe, and state Sen. John Douglas, R-Social Circle.

The property in question includes about 322 acres north of Interstate 20 and west of U.S. Highway 278 that lies in both Newton and Walton counties and was annexed in 2008 into the city limits of Social Circle. The property is owned by Walton County resident Donnie Clack, who has submitted a rezoning request to the city of Social Circle in order to construct a motorsports complex that would include a 1/8-mile drag strip.

The original annexation of this property was controversial. Clack, along with other property owners, sought in 2006 to annex 1,150 acres in unincorporated Newton County into the city limits of Social Circle. Newton County and Social Circle took the matter to the Newton County Superior Court, but the issue was ultimately resolved out of court with the property being annexed in 2008.

The ordeal spurred new state legislation regulating annexation disputes, also authored by Holt.

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.

Clack's property abuts residential property along Willow Springs Church Road and would impact other subdivisions, including Surrey Chase and River Cove. Residents in the area have formed a group, Concerned Citizens of Social Circle, in order to build opposition to the drag strip and to urge the Social Circle City Council to deny the zoning request.

Holt is slated to address a meeting of the CCOSC at 6:30 p.m. today at the First Baptist Church of Social Circle where he will discuss his planned legislation. Mayor Burgess is scheduled to speak to CCOSC members next Thursday and explain the impact de-annexation would have on Social Circle.