A Review of Buckhead’s Four Biggest Policy Concerns

Executive Summary

The effort to separate the community of Buckhead from the City of Atlanta has been one of Georgia’s most publicized and combative political battles of the past few years. The 2023 legislative session brought new bills that would have authorized a vote to incorporate “Buckhead City” by separating the affluent neighborhood from the rest of Atlanta. Although these efforts were voted down in the Senate, history shows that legislative defeat does not necessarily spell the end of this debate. Furthermore, even if Buckhead neighborhoods do not achieve cityhood, residents would still face many of the problems identified during the incorporation effort. 

The Georgia Public Policy Foundation takes no position on the issue of cityhood for Buckhead but wishes to contribute a fact-based appraisal of some of these problems so that they might be addressed successfully – whether the area in question remains part of Atlanta or becomes Buckhead City.

These key issues include:

  • Public Safety
  • Land Use
  • Taxation
  • Infrastructure

Introduction and Background

Buckhead sits in northern Atlanta and accounts for about one-fifth of both Atlanta’s geographical area and population (about 108,000 people), as well as most of its property tax base. It has undergone several demographic and economic changes since its founding in the 19th century, and since its annexation by Atlanta in 1952, it has gained a reputation as one of Atlanta’s most affluent neighborhoods.

In addition to containing the city’s highest property values, Buckhead is also a major corporate and retail hub. Popular shopping venues such as Lenox Square and Phipps Plaza contribute to the neighborhood being a key source of revenue for Atlanta.

Cityhood movements around Atlanta are nothing new, but they typically involve unincorporated areas forming their own governments. Buckhead, meanwhile, is already within Atlanta city limits, which creates a unique set of challenges.

Public Safety

The issue of public safety initially catalyzed the Buckhead cityhood movement. High-profile local crimes, along with a nationwide crime wave, led many Buckhead residents and business owners to question the effectiveness of the Atlanta Police Department.

In 2020 and 2021, crime was on the rise nationwide, and Buckhead was no exception. At one point during the summer of 2021, crime rates were rising at a higher rate in Buckhead than in the rest of Atlanta. 2022, however, was a different story. Buckhead’s crime rates were similar to the rest of the city’s. At the very least, Atlanta city leaders have spoken publicly quite often about Buckhead’s public safety concerns.

In June 2022, the Atlanta Police Department opened a mini-precinct in Buckhead’s West Village. Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens, who took office in January 2022, was present at the precinct’s ceremonial opening along with Governor Brian Kemp, presumably to demonstrate a serious commitment to fighting crime in the area. At the ceremony, Dickens said, “The most important issue for any mayor is to keep our cities safe and its residents safe. It is a paramount concern to me to stop this crime wave that we have in our city.”

The reversals into 2022 are also notable for their divergence from other parts of the city. That year, Zone 2 of the Atlanta Police Department’s jurisdiction, the area that contains Buckhead, saw the biggest total drop in crime of all zones.

Buckhead’s crime rates have continued to decrease throughout 2023, though not as starkly as in the previous year. Atlanta’s crime rates have increased slightly in the past year, and this is mostly due to property crime, specifically shoplifting and motor vehicle theft. Buckhead has seen a rise in shoplifting that is at a higher rate than the city’s overall, but it has not seen a similar rise in auto theft. These factors may explain the state Department of Public Safety’s decision, announced in September 2023, to open a new Georgia State Patrol post in Buckhead next to the Governor’s Mansion.

Note: 2023 totals are projected using data up to September 30, 2023.

Before 2020, crime had been falling in Atlanta almost uniformly for a decade. While recent trends are encouraging, it is vital that the downward trajectory continue to get the city back on track. 

Note: 2023 totals are projected using data up to September 30, 2023.

Note: 2023 totals are projected using data up to September 30, 2023.

Land Use

Many Buckhead residents expressed dissatisfaction at a set of zoning changes proposed by the Atlanta City Council in 2021.

The main objectives of those zoning proposals included allowing for more accessory dwelling units to be built behind residential homes, allowing for more small apartment buildings and eliminating parking minimums.

Some of the changes that have been criticized include:

  • Reducing minimum lot sizes for single-family homes
  • Allowing small apartment buildings in single-family neighborhoods near MARTA stations
  • Permitting accessory dwelling units such as garage apartments and guest houses on any single-family property within the city
  • Allowing “flag lots,” or new lots created when a narrow strip of land is carved out of one part of a property to allow for a long driveway leading to the back of the lot where a new home is built (roughly in the shape of a flag and flagpole)
  • Ending citywide parking requirements

Zoning can vary at a granular level across communities, and the impacts that qualify as “good” or “bad” zoning are mostly a matter of opinion and reflect citizens’ and lawmakers’ personal priorities.

Here is an interactive map provided by the Atlanta Department of City Planning that shows how the city is zoned at a street level.

Some residents oppose increased density, arguing it would change the character of historic neighborhoods. Others argue that creating more density is an important and worthwhile endeavor for the city, especially considering the high cost of housing and barriers to new development.

While the debate over zoning changes has cooled, it has continued into 2023. The most notable instance was the Atlanta City Council’s approval of a “Special Interest District” (SPI-25), which restricts new development in Buckhead’s Tuxedo Park.


Buckhead is a vital source of income for Atlanta, currently accounting for roughly 40 percent of the city’s total revenue and over half of its property tax revenue. Whether they support or oppose de-annexation, many Buckhead residents question the return they receive on their taxes paid, in the form of city services.

One way to illustrate Buckhead’s tax burden is looking at the high property taxes in the area. Although millage rates are the same across the city, property values are not. According to Realtor.com, the median listing residential property value in Buckhead is currently $850,000 and has trended upward over the past few years (other real estate sources offer varying estimates). The estimated property tax on that value, using millage rates for 2023 and assuming the owner claimed the homestead exemption, would be about $12,300. This tax is much higher than Fulton County’s median property tax of $2,733, which itself is the highest among Georgia counties. Although property values are almost certainly higher in Buckhead than in other parts of the city, numerous problems in recent years with Fulton County’s property appraisals have raised questions about whether property values may be out of line with market outcomes.

A 2021 report published by the Buckhead Coalition showed that Buckhead generated a total of $1.6 billion in total state and local tax revenue. Most of that revenue came from local property taxes and state income taxes, and retail sales taxes (which are levied by both local and state governments) also accounted for a significant portion. Almost exactly half of Buckhead’s property tax revenue, $307.3 million, went to Atlanta Public Schools. Fulton County and the City of Atlanta each got about $150 million, while the Buckhead Community Improvement District received a sliver of $6.6 million.

The largest portion of Buckhead’s sales tax revenue ($141 million) goes to the state, although various local entities receive a larger amount in total (almost $172 million). The local entities receiving the most sales tax revenues from Buckhead were MARTA ($53 million) and the City of Atlanta ($49 million).

The Buckhead De-Annexation Fiscal Analysis estimated that Atlanta would lose about $252 million a year in recurring revenues (mostly in  property taxes, sales taxes, lodging taxes and business license fees) and save somewhere between $135.7 million and $171 million by no longer having to provide services to the Buckhead area. This would result in net losses to the city – or savings to taxpayers – of somewhere between $80.3 million and $116.2 million.

Debt payments also play into this conversation. Atlanta pays roughly $81 million per year toward general obligation debt. It was estimated that Buckhead accounts for between $24.6 million and $32.1 million of that total.


Buckhead residents have raised concerns about potholes, outdated MARTA stations and neglected parks. Again, a chief concern is a lack of payoff for the taxes Buckhead citizens pay.

The Atlanta Department of Transportation (ATLDOT) is one public office that handles related projects in the city. ATLDOT handles projects such as road resurfacing and maintenance of bridges, sidewalks and traffic signals.

ATLDOT’s resurfacing projects, which can also include milling and restriping existing roads, as well as installations and repairs of features like curbs and bicycle lanes, have covered 89.75 centerline miles of road since 2019. Roads in Buckhead districts made up 25.16 of those miles, or just over one-fourth of the total distance covered.

Although that proportion is greater than Buckhead’s share of the city’s total land or population, some context is necessary. In total, ATLDOT is responsible for maintaining about 1,400 centerline miles of city streets. Consider that at the city’s recent pace, it would take around 50 years to resurface that entire area. This compares to an average lifespan of 10-15 years between repavings, depending on the material used for, and amount of traffic on the road, according to the Georgia Department of Transportation. Note that centerline miles refer to the total length of a given road, and not the width of the road. There is obviously a margin of error that cannot be accounted for, but this gives some idea of the scale of ATLDOT’s responsibilities and the sufficiency of its pace of work.

Given that context, it may well be that Buckhead residents’ sense of receiving inadequate services has more to do with the pace of repairs being made, or with the priorities of what types of repairs are made, than with the proportion of maintenance being done in Buckhead.

Some Buckhead residents have complained that the area’s parks are being neglected as well. The Atlanta Department of Parks and Recreation is responsible for 396 parks in the city, which include traditional, regional and community parks as well as outdoor basketball courts, skate parks, tennis courts, playgrounds and more. Of the parks listed by the Office of Parks, 67 (about one in six) are in Buckhead. That is lower than Buckhead’s share of the city’s land and population, which may reflect the fact that the city has not established a new park in Buckhead since annexing the area in 1952.

What is not clear from city records is how many of these parks are staffed, and at what levels. Nor do city budgets reflect how much maintenance spending is done at any particular park. As a result, we have not been able to assess how city resources are allocated among the parks in various parts of the city.

This section illustrates the City of Atlanta’s scope of responsibilities for two major categories of infrastructural projects: road resurfacing and park upkeep. Separation advocates have contended that localizing the community’s tax base will allow them to more efficiently manage public works.


The long-standing issue of Buckhead’s cityhood has generated multiple studies, grassroots initiatives, advocacy campaigns and emotional responses from both sides. We believe it is important to present as much context as possible on the key issues.

As with any contentious topic, the issues are often diluted by perspective and the way they are presented. Our hope is that serious discussion about Buckhead’s future will both stick to the facts and consider holistic ramifications. This includes the economic impacts of both separation and remaining.

There are also other, non-economic problems that would need addressing if Buckhead City were to become a reality, such as what will happen to the over 5,000 Atlanta Public School students within the boundary of the proposed city. This has not been clarified by any proposed legislation.

No matter what happens with the Buckhead City proposal in the years to come, we can hope that the conversation is contextualized with facts and a clear understanding of long-term implications.

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