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Business leaders now favor Stonecrest city study

Ken Watts | 7/19/2013, 6 a.m.
Leaders of the Stonecrest Business Alliance say that despite earlier doubts, they now support the effort to launch a feasibility ...
More than 200 people turned out for the Stonecrest City Alliance's July 8 meeting in the auditorium at the new Klondike Branch DeKalb Library. Photo by Ken Watts

— Leaders of the Stonecrest Business Alliance say that despite earlier doubts, they now support the effort to launch a feasibility study into the proposed city of Stonecrest.

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Albert Scott

Dr. Albert Scott, vice chair of the group of merchants and professionals located around the 1.3 million-square-foot Mall at Stonecrest, said the board of directors made the decision after hearing a July 1 presentation by Jason Lary, who is leading the Stonecrest City Alliance initiative.

The proposed new city with a projected population of about 76,000 people would cover 61 square miles encompassing a vast expanse of unincorporated Lithonia neighborhoods surrounding the Panola, Evans Mill and Turner Hill road exits, according to DeKalb County’s Geographical Information Systems. The group is raising $30,000 to finance the feasibility study by the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute.

Lary said as of July 18, the SCA had collected $23,000.

Scott, who saw the presentation, said it was a good PowerPoint.

“He made a compelling case, but we want to see them get to the feasibility study phase,” Scott said. “That’s the only way all our questions will be answered regarding whether cityhood is really a viable idea.”

Scott said the board has not donated to the study but that a member of the business alliance donated $500. This sentiment marks a shift from May when the business alliance sharply questioned whether the timing is right for cityhood in the Stonecrest area.

Sam Armstrong, coordinator of the business alliance, said at the time that he was concerned about the cost to create and maintain a city and that they did not want to step into a bottomless pit.

Armstrong said he now feels the effort should move forward through the study phase.

“I’m an accountant type, so I’m anxious to see what an outside agency says about the cost involved,” he said last week.

Scott said the new support for the cityhood movement comes from the business alliance’s board. “We have not yet polled the membership and I’m sure there are strong feelings on both sides of the issue,” he said.

The Vinson Institute also is analyzing the Lakeside City proposal in North DeKalb.

Lary says the momentum is on his group’s side, which is on target to finish the fundraising and have the money by the end of July.

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Jason Lary

“So we’re a serious contender now,” he said. “We raised $1,000 at our regular monthly informational meeting July 8. That’s the most we’ve ever received at one time.”

Lary had another reason to be upbeat. More than 200 people turned out for his July 8 informational meeting at the new DeKalb Library branch on Klondike Road.

“It was standing room only toward the end,” he said. “That’s the largest turnout to date for one of our meetings.”

He credits the large turnout to aggressive canvassing of neighborhoods in the area. During the meeting, Lary briefed the crowd on the cityhood process – its possible risks and benefits.

“People want to be self-determined,” he said. “They want to be self-governed.”

Some worry about a spike in property taxes under cityhood.

Like the other newly created cities in DeKalb – Dunwoody and Brookhaven – Stonecrest would take on zoning, police and parks.

The Stonecrest City Alliance believes the abundant available land in South DeKalb can attract new business and bolster the tax base.

But longtime activist Faye Coffield told the meeting she’s skeptical about a Stonecrest city’s chances of luring commerce.

“Unincorporated Lithonia as it exists today with its links to the county is the second or third wealthiest predominantly black community in the U.S., and we have a tough time getting businesses to come here,” she said. “If we can’t develop right now, there’s no way we’re gonna do it as a city.”

DeKalb NAACP President John Evans endorsed the idea.

“A lot of doubters outside our community don’t think you’ll succeed.” he said. “For those reasons, I think you should do it.”