The Buckhead City Movement: will Atlanta’s northern neighborhood become its own city?

“Should I stay or should I go now?” That’s the infamous question asked by The Clash since they released their hit song in 1982. But lately, that question is also being asked by some residents of Buckhead, Atlanta.

Buckhead is a residential and commercial area within metro Atlanta. It’s known for its upscale malls, dining and entertainment. Some of Atlanta’s wealthiest residents have lived in Buckhead, including the Georgia governor and many current and former executives of Coca-Cola, CNN, TBS and Home Depot.

Currently, Buckhead is a part of the city of Atlanta. However, a group called the Buckhead City Committee would like to change that, and, as a result, candidates for Atlanta mayor and city council debated whether or not Buckhead should become its own city or remain part of Atlanta. In this article, we’ll take a quick look at what the two sides of the debate have to say about it.

What do supporters of Buckhead cityhood say?

Supporters of Buckhead becoming a city typically list four factors in their reasoning for cityhood: crime, zoning, taxes and infrastructure.

  • Crime: In 2020 and 2021, the number of robberies, aggravated assaults and car-theft incidents all rose at a higher rate in Buckhead than Atlanta in general. Advocates for Buckhead cityhood point to this spike in relative crime levels as justification for Buckhead becoming its own city with its own police force that will have a larger presence in the area than the Atlanta Police Department does now.
  • Zoning: Supporters dislike Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ December 2020 affordable housing plan, which would rezone some single-family neighborhoods to allow for smaller apartment buildings in areas near transit stations and additional or accessory dwelling units. This means areas that currently only allow single-family homes would now permit other forms of housing, such as apartment buildings, rear-yard housing and basement apartments. (see our article on Zoning for a full explanation of what this means). They believe that this would bring more people into the neighborhoods, cause more traffic and reduce tree cover.
  • Taxes: Supporters of the Buckhead city movement argue that, even though Buckhead accounts for such a large portion of the city’s revenue through property taxes, they do not see that level of investment back into the Buckhead community. Buckhead is currently 20% of Atlanta’s population but 40% to 46% of the city’s tax base.
  • Infrastructure: Supporters argue that being an independent city will allow for faster road repairs, transportation system updates and park maintenance.

What do opponents of Buckhead cityhood say?

Here’s how opponents of cityhood are pushing back:

  • Crime: Opponents point out that cities that broke away from Atlanta, like Brookhaven and Sandy Springs, actually saw an increase in violent crime once they became independent.
  • Zoning: City officials have assured Buckhead residents that many parts of the region won’t be included in the rezoning plan. Atlanta’s Commissioner of the Department of City Planning Tim Keane assured residents that the proposal is not “intended to transform single-family neighborhoods … into dense, urban settings” and that any zoning proposals will “[exclude] the more suburban single-family districts that constitute many of the residential parts of Buckhead.”
  • Taxes: One of the most common criticisms of the Buckhead city movement is that it would leave Atlanta in a difficult financial situation, leaving it with less money to handle key infrastructure, housing and crime problems. In the last fiscal year, the city brought in over $232 million from property taxes on Buckhead homeowners and commercial property owners. Emory Professor Michael Leo Owens said that if Buckhead’s property taxes were taken off the books, Atlanta’s budget “would be completely wrecked.” Some opponents of Buckhead cityhood see this as unfair, since Buckhead’s prosperity compared to the rest of the city is largely due to white flight out of the city of Atlanta and into suburbs like Buckhead, meaning that white residents left Atlanta and deinvested in the city in order to avoid living near Black Atlantans. This point is further underscored by the fact that the proposed city of Buckhead would be demographically very different from Atlanta. While Atlanta is 51% Black and 38.8% white, the proposed city of Buckhead would be only 11% Black and 74% white. Opponents argue that this is a further deinvestment from Atlanta along racial lines.
  • Infrastructure: Atlanta officials against cityhood argue that the Biden Administration’s $1.2 billion infrastructure proposal will help the city to address the backlog of infrastructure problems facing the city within the next five years.

What’s next?

Supporters of Buckhead cityhood want to pass a bill to break away during the 2022 legislative session and allow residents to vote on the issue during the November 2022 election.

Before then, the Atlanta mayor and city council will have a huge influence over the Buckhead area before a cityhood vote could be considered. Since the mayor’s seat and all 15 city council seats are up for grabs in November 2021, your vote will have a huge impact on whether or not Buckhead remains a part of Atlanta.

Branch is a free, nonpartisan website that walks you through who’s on your ballot, and where they stand on key issues, such as the Buckhead city movement. You can get started by looking up your personalized ballot at www.branch.vote/ATL. And make sure you vote on or before November 2nd!

Branch is a nonpartisan Georgia startup with a mission to make state and local government more approachable. You can find quality information about your next election by visiting www.branch.vote.

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It takes more than the president to change the country. Branch is nonpartisan website that walks you through everything else on your ballot.