Georgia is in line to add another city to its register. This time in the northern part of Henry County. It would be called Eagle’s Landing.
But this cityhood movement is unlike any other.
To form Eagle’s Landing, land would come from unincorporated parts of the county, which isn’t anything new. It gets complicated because the remaining land to make up the new city would come from the existing city of Stockbridge.
The push to form Eagle’s Landing has resulted in a contentious fight between Stockbridge city officials, state lawmakers and those supporting the new city. It’s also been a fight over money and race.
Census data show the income in the southern part of Stockbridge, which would be the Eagle’s Landing area, is almost double that of other areas in the county.
The explanation for why people in the proposed Eagle’s Landing area want to form their own city differs depending on who you ask.
Vikki Consiglio chairs the Eagle’s Landing Educational Research Committee. It’s a community group set up to supervise the cityhood push through the Georgia Legislature. She said the decision to leave Stockbridge and form their own city came down to one thing: money.
“The pocket of high-income area in Henry County was that Eagle’s Landing area,” Consiglio said. “So we said if we just took this area and have a city and we could raise that per capita income, would that not attract those things we’re looking for.”
Things like upscale restaurants and luxury hotels. Consiglio said now they usually have to head north to Atlanta in search of high-end locations they want to eat at.
The proposed city limits would include Eagle’s Landing Country Club. The main strip, Eagle’s Landing Parkway, has restaurants and businesses lining the street on both sides. The parkway is also considered the economic corridor for the entire city of Stockbridge.
That land grab doesn’t sit well with north Stockbridge resident Marquis Byrd.
“I don’t mind Eagle’s Landing becoming a city,” Byrd said. “The problem is you’re taking part of Stockbridge — 50 percent of Stockbridge, which means 50 percent of revenues, which means everything is gone.”
Byrd was one of about a hundred people, mostly African-Americans, to attend a recent prayer vigil outside of Stockbridge’s City Hall.
They were there to oppose how this was playing out in the Georgia Legislature.
Community and faith-based officials alternated in speaking to the group and leading prayers.
As they prayed, Byrd held up a poster board with a message for state lawmakers: “Keep Stockbridge together: Let everyone vote.”
Why does voting matter? That’s been another point of contention in this fight.
Right now, only those people living in the proposed area would get a chance to cast a ballot but not the other residents in Stockbridge.
That’s how it’s always been. When cities like South Fulton, Brookhaven and Tucker formed, only the people in the affected area voted.
The difference this time is that the new government, Eagle’s Landing, would take land from the existing Stockbridge city government. A move that’s been called unprecedented.
Because of that, Stockbridge Mayor Anthony Ford says all residents should vote.
“If this is going to come to a vote for the citizens, the entire city needs to vote,” Ford said. “It affects the entire city.”
To understand Georgia’s modern cityhood craze, you have to take a trip back to 2005. That’s when Sandy Springs incorporated.
‘I Believe We Created A Monster’
Republican state Sen. Renee Unterman was part of that movement. Unterman spoke on the Senate floor against the Eagle’s Landing legislation. She said when Sandy Springs was formed, it set a bad precedent.
At the time, the door to create new cities was merely cracked open, but she believes now, it’s been pushed wide open.
“I believe we created a monster,” Unterman said. “It’s bad policy because you are creating cultural wars.”
Democratic state Sen. Emanuel Jones represents almost all of Stockbridge, which is in line to have its city completely reshaped. He said those cultural wars come down to the fact that almost 60 percent of the city’s population is black, so is the mayor and all of the City Council.
“There’s only one demographic that’s changed in Stockbridge,” Jones said. “And that is it went from minority to majority for African-Americans. So they made the case for us that the reason behind incorporating this city has all to do with race.”
Another Republican state senator, Brian Strickland, represents the area that includes what could soon become Eagle’s Landing. He said none of that matters, all his constituents are doing is going by the book.
“The way the law reads, the way we’ve done it with every other city, the people that are actually affected by this will get a chance to vote on it,” Strickland said. “So everyone that will be affected by this directly will have a chance to vote yes or no in joining the city of Eagle’s Landing.”
Mayor Ford said everybody in Stockbridge is affected. He said if Eagle’s Landing becomes a city, there would be an increased financial burden for residents left behind.
They would have to pay a property tax, something they don’t currently have.
“I don’t want to be in the position where I and the rest of the council have to impose something on you that you didn’t vote for,” he said.
Residents could get a chance to vote on creating Eagle’s Landing as early May. The Senate has already passed two bills, one supporting the de-annexation and the other creating the Eagle’s Landing charter.
The House, too, has approved the Senate’s bill allowing the de-annexation of Stockbridge’s land to form the new city. Now, it awaits Gov. Nathan Deal’s signature.
But Stockbridge residents plan to keep fighting back.