The Chunk That Got Away

Social Circle, Georgia would seem to hit all of the highpoints necessary for coverage on Twelve Mile Circle. It has an odd name (Social Circle?). It has the word "circle" in its title just like the humble 12MC itself. It is one of those unusual Georgia towns with an actual circular shape, with a radius of two miles (3.2 km) in this instance. It’s a geo-oddity trifecta. And yet… and yet… those don’t come close to being the most remarkable recent feature of the ever-fascinating Social Circle.

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Let’s deal with the name so we can sweep that aside and focus on the good stuff. Nobody really knows why Social Circle came to be known as Social Circle. The State of Georgia said basically the same thing although with a few more words and a bit more tactfully:

Incorporated as a city in 1904, Social Circle offers two possibilities for its naming. One local legend has it that a traveler, much impressed by the townspeople’s kindness, remarked in passing, “This sure is a social circle?!” Another, less colorful, version of the tale has it that a new resident proposed his old village’s name.

The USGS Geographic Names Information System (GNIS) lists only a single populated place called Social Circle — this one in Georgia — so let’s assume a previously-named village no longer exists or the current one was indeed filled with bands of friendly people a century ago. No matter. Let’s move along and take a look at the shape of Social Circle today.

View Social Circle Annex in a larger map

The map displays some complexity so let me walk through it.

  • Social Circle, as it largely exists today (2012), is the blue-shaded area.
  • The heavy black line is the Walton County boundary. Walton County is north of the line. Newton County is southwest and Morgan County is southeast. All but a small chunk of Social Circle falls within Walton County.
  • The area that caused the big fight is approximated by the light green space. I’m not sure those are the exact boundaries although they should cover most of it.

Each of these features will figure into the story which I stumbled across quite by accident. I noticed the Social Circle map posted on the city website differed from Google Maps. Essentially Google included a dangling appendage hanging towards the southeast. It turned out that the city posted an outdated map. If one drilled-down further into their website the dangling appendage appeared on their accurate 2011 zoning map.

I started searching for "Social Circle annexation" and similar phrases to see if I could find an explanation. I uncovered mounds of information although it was all amazingly convoluted. It took me awhile to figure out that the dispute centered on the light-green area, not the dangle. I still don’t know how the dangle came into existence other than Social Circle apparently annexed the area and nobody complained which is remarkable as you’ll learn if you keep reading.

Social Circle based its ongoing viability on moving its border continuously southward towards Interstate 20, with Route 11 as a gateway, like its own miniature Manifest Destiny. The town began to annex rather aggressively in that direction starting right around 2006. This generated a tremendous amount of local news coverage, with a nice timeline summary published in the Newton Citizen in a two-part article, on March, 24, 2010 and March 25, 2010. Here’s what happened as best as I could piece the facts together:

  • Several land owners requested that 1,200 acres in Newton County (the other side of the black line on the map) be annexed into Social Circle in 2006. Upon annexation the land would then be zoned for a mixed-use business park.
  • Newton County objected to the incursion, mediation failed to provide a solution and Newton County sued Social Circle.
  • There were errors in the annexation so Social Circle repealed it in March 2008 and the lawsuit dropped.
  • One of the land owners requested annexation again in July 2008. He wanted to build a motorsports complex with a drag strip. The other landowners joined the request in 2009.
  • Social Circle expanded again.
  • The thought of a motorsports complex and a drag strip upset a lot of local residents who opposed the new annexation. Newton County wasn’t thrilled either.
  • Social Circle de-annexed the properties again in May 2010 in the face of fierce opposition. Once more there was a technical flaw (a one-acre parcel was left out of the description).
  • Drag racing dreams were crushed.

Meanwhile, state legislators representing Newton and other nearby counties managed to shepherd a number of bills into law to restrict towns from annexing land on the other side of a county line. As noted in the Morgan County Citizen,

The genesis of House Bill 2 is in the annexation several years ago of some 1,150 acres of Newton County land by the City of Social Circle. Social Circle, which is in Walton County, faced significant objections from unincorporated residents, and subsequently went through several non-binding mediation exercises. Ultimately, however, current law placed few stumbling blocks in the way of incorporation… The new law may at least slow down land speculators who purchase land, push annexations through a municipality, then sell the land for an elevated price.

The city attempted to annex a completely different property in April 2012. That fell through too for (wait for it…) technical reasons.

Someone must be trying to tell them something.