On Thursday, the Social Circle City Council repealed a controversial 2006 annexation of 1,150 acres of Newton County land, citing a technical flaw in the boundary description of the annexed property as the reason.
Social Circle Mayor Jim Burgess said the council was made aware of the flaw by City Attorney Joe Reitman and based on his legal advice decided to repeal the annexation.
"Based on that advice, I really felt like we had no choice," Burgess said.
Despite the protests of Newton County, Social Circle annexed the 1,150 acres, located on the north side of Interstate 20 between Ga. Highway 11 and U.S. Highway 278, in November 2006. A month after the land was annexed Newton County filed a lawsuit against the city. In its lawsuit the county argued the annexation should be declared void as it violated the annexation ordinances of Social Circle, the county and Georgia.
One argument of the county appears to have borne fruit. In its suit the county argued the annexation had created unincorporated islands, which are illegal in the state. The county claimed Social Circle tried to get around the prohibition of unincorporated islands by leaving 10-foot strips of land as connectors between the un-annexed land parcels.
Reitman said the city felt the 10-foot strips were legally acceptable and were "fee simple" or completely owned by the landowners. However Reitman said the city learned at the end of February the strips were actually described as easements in the boundary description for the annexation and therefore did constitute unincorporated islands.
"Those 10-foot strips were intended to remain as Newton County property and not become Social Circle property but because of a legal description in the annexation petition, that property actually becam e Social Circle annexation property, subject to an easement for Newton County annexation," Reitman said. "It is a little bit of a gray area and arguably a debatable point but the city wanted this annexation to be beyond reproach."
The repealing of the annexation also invalidates the Mixed Use Business Park zoning given to the entire 1,150 acres by Social Circle. The formerly annexed land is owned by a group of six landowners. They are: MAB Holding Company, Thomas H. Campbell, Carolyn Penland, J. Brad Bettis, Little River Ventures LLC and Chas M. Bettis.
Burgess said he did not know whether the city council would agree to annex the land again.
"I don't know whether we would or not," Burgess said. "I guess that ball is in the court of the property owner and I don't know what they're going to do."
John Penland said his family is currently mulling over their options for what to do with their 465 acres of formerly annexed land.
"We're just trying to figure out what to do," Penland said.
Penland said his family might consider reapplying for annexation, as there were no technical issues keeping their property from being re-annexed such as the 10-foot strips.
Burgess said he could not comment on how the decision to repeal the annexation would affect the county's lawsuit against the city.
"That pretty much concludes the whole issue," Burgess said. "I regret it taking so long. I wish we could have resolved it with the county."
Earlier this month the county filed a motion seeking summary judgment in its suit. James Griffin, an attorney for Newton County, said news of the repeal of the annexation was still too new for the county to have formulated a response.