A year ago this week, Jason Lary was sworn in as mayor of his brainchild, the brand new city of Stonecrest outside of Atlanta. Now Stonecrest is a frontrunner to land the new Amazon headquarters. How’d he do it?
Earlier this month, Brentin Mock reported on the burgeoning cityhood movements outside of Atlanta. Now he talks with the mayor of the newest city on Atlanta’s outskirts, Stonecrest.
You may have heard about the Amazon HQ2 proposal from Georgia offering municipal naming rights to the corporate behemoth—as in, the company could have its own city called Amazon, Georgia. That offer came from the city of Stonecrest, which sits about 20 miles east of the city of Atlanta.
Stonecrest has only, itself, been a city since 2017. Residents of the formerly unincorporated area of southeast DeKalb County voted in November 2016 to officially incorporate into a city. It is one of the more recent municipal experiments to hatch across the county, and metro Atlanta as a whole, since the turn of the century.
Stonecrest elected its first mayor, Jason Lary, on March 21, 2017. He was sworn in six days later making Tuesday his one-year anniversary. Lary is also the person who came up with the Stonecrest city concept and who planned it for four years before taking it to the state legislature for a vote in 2016. The city’s formation is not without haters, though. Sam Rosen wrote about the “controversial cityhood movement” happening around Atlanta for The Atlantic last year, explaining that the original impetus for unincorporated suburbs to municipalize may have been driven at least in part by racism.
Many of the neighborhoods that became cities, starting in the 2000s, were predominantly white and upper-income enclaves that wanted more control of how their tax dollars were used by DeKalb County. Prior to becoming cities, the unincorporated areas depended on the county to deliver services such as garbage collection, policing, sewage maintenance and building inspection. As cities, these places can contract with private entities to operate these services in a more controlled and localized environment.
Stonecrest was the first majority-black city to form from this cityhood movement in DeKalb County, and so far it is the only city to form in the county’s southern parts, where the bulk of the African-American population lives. There is currently another proposal to municipalize the remainder of South DeKalb into a city called Greenhaven, but it is meeting massive resistance.
It’s similar to the resistance that met Lary when he spearheaded the Stonecrest city effort. (“You cannot be a cotton ball for the kind of work I’m doing,” Lary told Rosen for The Atlantic. “It’s some Jimmy Hoffa-level work.”) For those who oppose cityhood in DeKalb County, the fears are, mostly, that residential property values will collapse and that taxes will rise, especially if the city has a majority non-white population. The research in general, does not support that anxiety, but Stonecrest, which has an almost completely black population, has at least a year’s worth of data from its own existence to test those claims.....MORE