Garden City decides against Southbridge annexation

By Sonny Dixon - bio | email

CHATHAM COUNTY, GA (WTOC) - After two years of discussion and a yearlong petition process, Garden City has decided not to annex the Southbridge neighborhood.

It's not that the effort failed. Far from it. City leaders point to the constructive dialogue and overwhelming majority of residents demonstrating support.

But with the numbers at or near those required by law, and with a vocal few opponents threatening to challenge signatures and ultimately take the matter to court, city leaders decided not so subject taxpayers to the time and expense of litigation.

It is hardly the first time a frenzied annexation proposal has ended with the upscale community remaining in unincorporated Chatham County.

Savannah was the first municipality to try to annex Southbridge with a quiet legislative push, which was blocked, ironically, by this reporter, then the State Representative from West Chatham. It was clear then that residents of Southbridge and those nearby wanted nothing to do with it. They were also upset that Savannah tried to secure approval without public hearings and without a vote.

"Most of them are adamantly opposed and they, like me, have been especially upset with the process," I told WTOC in 1990.

Garden City, Pooler and Savannah have shown interest over the years, but it's the push by Southbridge residents to get into Garden City. That push resulted in legislation to put it to a vote in the November elections. But again, one lawmaker blocked it.

"I'm not really against it, but I wanted Garden City to explore all avenues before having the state get involved in local affairs," said State Rep. Lester Jackson said.

Southbridge residents petitioned Garden City, through a Georgia legal process requiring fully that 60 percent of registered voters and that owners of 70 percent of the land area involved.

That land area requirement was overwhelmingly met and the former petition was right at the requisite number, so what will Garden City do now?

"The city has made the decision that we are not going to submit the signatures to the Board of Registrars for validation," said Garden City City Manager Brian Johnson.

The city, not wanting to burden taxpayers with possible legal fights and the wishes of a sizeable majority of Southbridge residents, thwarted.

"I'm really disappointed that a few people, non-property owners and old developers with sour grapes are putting the brakes on something that's good for everybody," said resident Michael Shortt.

"That's not the United States of America as far as I'm concerned. Something's wrong with this picture," stated resident Laurie Bourne.

"I would hope there's some way we can work around that and that the majority would speak as opposed to the minority winning the 'vote' so to speak," said resident Donna Abbott.

After two decades, another chapter on Southbridge annexation is written, though clearly not the last. The legislature convenes next week and it's clear Southbridge residents will push the right to put it to a vote once and for all.

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