A fight is likely to resume over an industrial district that both Atlanta and the newly formed city of South Fulton want within their borders.
State lawmakers introduced a bill this week that calls for voters to decide whether to dissolve the Fulton County Industrial District, an eight-mile stretch of land that is the biggest industrial area in the region and the only remaining unincorporated part of Fulton County.
Under current law, the area cannot be annexed into any city.
If legislators pass the bill, a referendum would be held in November. Should voters decide to allow the district to be dissolved, a second bill would require that it become part of the city of South Fulton.
Atlanta already has taken its fight for the land, which has 46 million square feet of industrial space and a workforce of more than 20,000 people, to the state supreme court. This fall, the court declined to rule on whether the area could be annexed into Atlanta or any other city, saying no annexation had been proposed.
In a statement in October, an Atlanta spokesperson said the city would “evaluate its options going forward.” Friday, a spokesperson did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Rep. Roger Bruce, D-Atlanta, is a member of the city of South Fulton transition team and introduced the legislation to bring the district into the new city. His bill has the support of north Fulton Republicans, including Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones. He said Fulton County is on board with the proposal.
Fulton County Commission Chairman John Eaves said in a statement that he is “open to exploring this legislation and all other options” that could help the new city succeed. The commission will discuss the bills at its next meeting, he said.
“The competition’s going to come from Atlanta,” Bruce said. “They’re probably going to want it. We’re going to keep our position that it was always intended to be part of the city of South Fulton.”
Property owners in the area would prefer to join a new city, rather than align themselves with Atlanta, said Gil Prado, the executive director of the Fulton Industrial Community Improvement District. Atlanta last year sent letters to property owners urging them to annex into the city, but no one was interested, Prado said.
“They want more local control,” Prado said. “Atlanta’s a big place. Property owners feel like they don’t know where they would fit in.”
The district, which has been around for more than 50 years, has a Coca-Cola bottling plant and facilities for Ryder, Gatorade, Frito Lay and other companies, Prado said.
David Seem, the chief financial officer for the in-store marketing company Miller Zell, said he and other business leaders are in favor of joining the city of South Fulton, not Atlanta.
“Access to government is so much easier,” he said of being part of the smaller city. “We’d get much more attention.”
If the legislation does not pass or a countywide referendum fails, Bruce said he could see Fulton County contracting with the new city to provide services, such as police and fire, so the county doesn’t have to maintain departments for such a small area.
The finances of the new city are “not crippled without” the Fulton Industrial revenues, Bruce said, but they would be improved if the area is part of South Fulton.
“Anything you do down here is a challenge,” Bruce said. “I hope we’ll be successful.”