The city of Sandy Springs will buy a Hammond Drive residential lot as a placeholder for its long-planned road-widening project, the City Council decided Feb. 2.

The $375,000 purchase of 590 Hammond sparked some community concerns of the road widening secretly beginning. But City Manager John McDonough said the project still needs years of planning and public meetings. The purchase is a “protective buy” to secure right of way now before infill redevelopment makes property costs skyrocket. And he indicated that the city might make more such purchases.

A map of the 590 Hammond Drive property from the city of Sandy Springs’ purchase files.

McDonough said that “it would be irresponsible of the city” to not buy the land now relatively cheaply as infill houses nearby go for nearly $1 million, “knowing that the long-term plan calls for the widening of the corridor.”

The 590 Hammond site, at the corner of Lorell Terrace, is currently empty after a developer recently demolished a house there for a planned infill project. The city is buying the land from that developer, Mehmet Olcal of Roswell-based Alphasibel LLC. Olcal bought the property last year for $250,000, according to property records.

“I understand the protective buy,” said Steve Oppenheimer, president of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, but added, “I have great concern about the project is going to impact our neighborhood in the interim.”

Oppenheimer said he is concerned the city will not maintain the site and that city land buys will breed uncertainty among neighbors, who might delay improvements on their own properties. McDonough pledged that the city will maintain any site in its “natural state” pending road work and that if it acquires any houses on Hammond, it will demolish rather than rent them.

A few years ago, the city bought another property on Hammond at Kayron Drive. The city demolished a house there that was damaged by stormwater problems, Councilman Tibby DeJulio said.

DeJulio and Assistant City Manager Bryant Poole said Hammond has been seen as a problem street for decades. Its width varies, and the section between Roswell Road and Perimeter Center is a narrow choke point that also lacks sidewalks, forcing pedestrians to use rugged trails.

Widening the road has been in various plans in the past decade, most recently as part of the 2012 transportation special local option sales tax package that failed at the ballot box. However, some residents have opposed changing the residential character of the street. Last year, the city applied for a $240,000 Atlanta Regional Commission grant to study the project and finalize a design via community meetings. “All indications are we’re in solid running to get that money from ARC,” Poole said.

But any actual construction would be years away. McDonough said it could take five years if it involves federal funds, and possibly less time if state funds are approved through another local option sales tax package in discussion.

Poole and McDonough emphasized that there is no update to the widening plan, which still exists as three alternative designs sketched out with some public input in 2009. “Importantly, there’s going to be impact on either side of Hammond no matter what alignment,” Poole said. “I think it’s important to us to secure the right of way.”

City councilmen agreed in their unanimous vote to approve the purchase. “I think this about preserving two things,” said Councilman Gabriel Sterling. “It preserves taxpayer dollars…and it preserves our options.” He and Councilman Andy Bauman noted that if the road project is rejected for some reason in the future, the city can sell the land at market rates.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.