When the affluent suburban community north of Atlanta won its independence in
2005 -- after complaining for years that its taxes subsidized poor communities
to the south -- it became Georgia's first new city since the 1950s. And rather
than set up a city hall, the city chose to outsource the bulk of the
administration to a private corporation.
Though the amulet had long been dismissed as urban legend, a mythical ideal of
zoning perfection handed down from city planner to city planner, LaMere became
convinced that not only was it real, but that it had been used to lay out the cities of Ur, Atlantis, and Inver Grove Heights, MN.
LaMere credited the amulet with the overnight renovation of the Monroe County Public Library, and the recent redesignation of a Southern Rochester area from "commercial" to "single-family residential use for detached and semi-detached structures." Many Rochester citizens believe the amulet is responsible for the fully stocked ocean aquarium that materialized in the city center Sunday, and the gleaming new Friendly's restaurant that rose serenely over the banks of the Genesee River late Monday afternoon.
The first story is most definitely real, and comes courtesy of an August 17, 2007 article in the Los Angeles Times (An experiment in government). It seems that a few unincorporated communities outside of Atlanta have finally become municipalities, but rather than start a completely new layer of government, they have contracted out most of their governmental—administrative services to…the Denver-based engineering firm CH2M-Hill Inc.
For 30 years, residents of Sandy Springs fought a Democratic-controlled
Legislature for cityhood, with legislators refusing to change a law that made it difficult for new cities to be formed. Republicans gained control of the Legislature in 2004 and changed the rules. When Sandy Springs held its referendum on cityhood, 94% of voters approved.
[W]hen the affluent suburban community north of Atlanta won its independence in 2005 -- after complaining for years that its taxes subsidized poor communities to the south -- it became Georgia's first new city since the 1950s. And rather than set up a city hall, the city chose to outsource the bulk of the administration to a private
[Y]et the movement's aim does not appear to be lowering taxes or unraveling bureaucracy. Despite their differences, the new cities all seem to share a desire for greater regulation, particularly when it comes to zoning.In Sandy Springs, a highly developed suburban area with 87,000 residents, this means regulating adult entertainment businesses and updating or replacing older commercial buildings. To the south, in Chattahoochee Hill Country, a less-developed area and home to fewer than 2,200, the focus is on preserving most of the land as rural, with the occasional hamlet.
With phenomenal growth around Atlanta, each city is concerned with who controls development and what gets built, said Douglas C. Bachtel, a demographer at the University of Georgia."A lot of people who move in want to see new development," he said. "But everyone wants to be the last person in."
Sounds kind of familiar; a middle-aged unincorporated city pushing near 100,000 people, a pre-occupation with zoning, dissatisfaction with the county government…
Even if the movement of new local governments is successful in local terms, demographer Bachtel said, it could lead to a broader impasse across the region:"The jury is still out.
There are more people in the stewpot now, elbowing for more power. We might be headed toward an ungovernable area with all these little fiefdoms."
This has also had effects at the county government level:
The dramatic and rapid shift toward an all-city county has sent shock waves through county government.With potentially no unincorporated areas, county commissioners are, among other things, considering replacing the Sheriff's Department with a privately contracted jailer. And they are looking at replacing the seven county commissioners with a five-member panel.
Fulton County would continue to collect taxes and provide countywide services such as courts, health centers and senior services.
Could it happen here? I do not think so, but there may be some out there that think this is just what Howard County needs.
On to Fiction
Our second story comes from the August 25, 2005 (yes, it is two years old) edition of the on-line satire vehicle, The Onion (City Councilman Unearths Magical Zoning Amulet). In this fantastical story, one of the Rochester, NY city council members finds an amulet with mysterious zoning powers. Although not based in reality, it is a well written story in a “Harry Potter meets the Howard County Council” kind of way and provides some chuckles.
Although the Rochester City Zoning Board controls all decisions related to city planning, sources at City Hall say that, as long as LaMere's powerful zoning wizardry is performed for the good of the city, they "see no reason to deny him what seems to be his destiny."I came across the zoning amulet via the Cyburbia website and their Planning Site of the Day/Humor page. There are several Onion links that poke fun at the world of planning and zoning (fair warning, some mature content).
"Two weeks ago, the biggest news in Rochester was our huge public garage sale," said William A. Johnson, Rochester's mayor. "Our city center was still a moribund tax burden with small businesses in big buildings and families moving to the suburbs in droves. Now, with a wave of his mighty amulet, Councilman LaMere can designate matter-of-right medium-density development, with limited offices for non-profit organizations, trade associations, and professionals permitted as a special exception requiring approval of the RCZA."
Despite the potential improvements to Rochester's civic landscape, some residents remain wary of LaMere's apparent bureaucratic invincibility.
"It's wonderful that someone's finally doing something to revitalize this town, even if it is someone who can commune with church gargoyles," said local baker Wendy Kittner, whose business was mystically placed on the National Register Of Historic Places last week despite being housed in a building erected in 1981. "He frightens me, and my concern is that if I defy him, I may be turned to stone."