As the city of Sandy Springs gears up two studies about adding transit and multi-modal lanes on a widened Mount Vernon Highway, residents have growing fears that it will require demolishing many houses. City officials say that idea came from early conceptual drawings and any actual plans are many months away – but they also will not rule out the eminent domain taking of homes.

Four homeowners associations in the affected area – the southern stretch of Mount Vernon east of Glenridge Drive – are gathering for an Oct. 24 special meeting that City Councilmember Chris Burnett will attend. Among its organizers is local resident Brian Eufinger, a former competitor of Burnett’s for the council seat, who issued a flyer using Revolutionary War-era lingo to say the HOAs must “stand together or we will surely die apart.”

A detail of a city presentation from January 2017 showing “major conflict” with Mount Vernon Highway widening and many local houses.

“I don’t want to be homeless,” said Eufinger, whose house is among those touched by the road-widening line in preliminary drawings. He said he knows it’s early in a process, but also says the city has a history of moving ahead with preconceived plans. He also questioned the need for a wider road or transit options, likening it to Atlanta’s little-used Downtown streetcar and saying it could “waste $20 million and displace a hundred residents” for nothing.

City officials don’t deny that the drawings show houses might come down, or that the final plan could require that. But they also say it’s far too early in a process that has yet to nail down any recommendations, let alone plans, and which will have public input meetings – the first of which is coming on Nov. 14.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun said the 10-month-old early drawings were purely conceptual, only showing that “if you simply laid this [widening] down in the middle of Mount Vernon as it exists today, what would the impact be?” And the result, she noted, showed, “That’s a lot of impact.”

“That is so way ahead,” she said of concerns about house-taking in the final plans months or years from now. “Can I tell you 100 percent we won’t need any right of way if we go ahead and implement any of those ideas? I’m not an engineer. I can’t speak to that … It’s too early.”

Chris Burnett

Burnett said he has heard from some concerned residents and is “encouraging people not to get too concerned too quickly … I hate not being able to be more specific, but we’re just not there yet.”

Asked whether he’s comfortable with eminent domain of houses being on the table in the first place, Burnett said, “I guess I could never say I’m comfortable with taking homes.” He said he believes “there are ways to shift the roadway – and I’m not a traffic engineer – where most of the land needed to be taken is on the north side of the road,” opposite the houses in question.

The city’s plans for Mount Vernon Highway go back to an $11 million multi-use path that was one of several projects on the list for last year’s voter-approved transportation special purpose local option sales tax. That path, to run between Roswell Road and the Sandy Springs MARTA Station, overlapped with another TSPLOST item – a study of possible mass transit along such routes.

One of the city’s conceptual designs for Mount Vernon Highway has two “multi-modal lanes,” marked with diamonds, flanked by a sidewalk to the left and a multi-use path to the right.

By the City Council’s annual retreat in January, the Mount Vernon concept had morphed into a concept for not only multi-use paths, but also additional “multi-modal” lanes on the street. The multi-modal lanes would be restricted to use by alternative or mass transit, such as bicycles, shuttle buses or self-driving cars.

The conceptual drawings of various lane configurations — up to 79 feet wide, or a total road width around 90 feet — were shown at that meeting. The widest version showed that it would have “major conflict” with 19 houses fronting on Mount Vernon Oaks Drive and Cotswold Lane, as well as others in the area. That appears to mean at least taking large portions of the houses’ yards and a high brick wall; in some cases, it clearly means demolishing the home.

Since then, according to Kraun, the city has hired two consulting firms to study different parts of the Mount Vernon concept: KCI and Gresham, Smith and Partners. One is working to refine recommended transit and multi-modal options for the corridor and the other on how such options would work.

The consultants started work in recent weeks and are expected to finish studying by year’s end, with a public presentation of final recommendations in February or March, Kraun said. Any actual design, based on their recommendations and public feedback, would follow and would take at least many more months.

The city and the state have other significant projects on both ends of that stretch of Mount Vernon: a city plan to improve the intersection with Johnson Ferry Road, which in a rethinking phase after a controversial dual-roundabout plan, and the state’s project to replace the bridge over Ga. 400 as part of its I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction. Kraun and Burnett said it is unlikely that either project will limit the options for the multi-modal/transit study.

Eufinger acknowledged that he had been aware of the conceptual drawing showing possible house-taking since it was released in January, but that he was not immediately concerned.

“I didn’t think there was a snowball’s chance in hell the TSPLOST was going to pass,” he said.

Brian Eufinger

Recently, he said, residents became concerned when surveyors began entering yards as part of the study. Then, about a month ago, Gresham, Smith and Partners consultants held a meeting with HOA members. (Affected HOAs include Glenview, Mount Vernon Parc, Mount Vernon Walk and Registry Glen.) Eufinger said residents were frustrated that the consultants talked in transit “buzzwords” while dodging any discussion about the possible house-takings.

Eufinger said the concept is similar to the city’s controversial study of widening Hammond Drive, less than a mile south of Mount Vernon. There, the city is already buying up houses as land-banking for the possible widening. Both Eufinger and Burnett expressed skepticism about the Hammond widening plan during last year’s council campaign, though Burnett has since voted with the council majority to purchase more houses. The difference on Mount Vernon, Eufinger said, is the many other uses, including schools, a library and businesses.

Eufinger cited several doubts about the idea of Mount Vernon widening and transit, with or without house-taking. He said it would not improve traffic unless “they agree to tunnel under Roswell Road at Johnson Ferry,” where cars hit a bottleneck, and that traffic is only a problem at peak rush hour. “Hellen Keller could drive down Mount Vernon safely 100 hours a week,” he said.

Part of a recent flyer, written by resident Brian Eufinger, warning about potential eminent domain takings of houses for a future Mount Vernon Highway project.

He also questioned the need for a shuttle or other transit option.

“If they’re so confident, prove it,” he said. “Run a free shuttle along that route. See if people ride it.”

Burnett said he understands the local concerns.

“I have to be honest with people and say, ‘I can’t tell you today what it’s going to look like,’” Burnett said. But, he added, he assures residents that the study recommendations will get “diligent” council review so the “impact on their quality of life is as minimal as possible,” and an “abundance of public meetings.”

6 replies on “Mount Vernon widening studies raise fears of taking Sandy Springs houses”

  1. The city continues to approve development after development and congested traffic is the casualty. So, widening more roads, similar to widening interstate lanes, appears to be the only answer that traffic experts can come up with. Quit approving developments!

  2. The idea of an experimental free shuttle is good test before spending $20 million on it.

    The recent survey for traffic usage went out too early. The city council should have waited until City Center and the nearby construction are complete.

    Most current residents are families living in multi family homes and will likely not use the shuttle. But with thousands of apartment units being added to the area around Roswell Rd and Mount Vernon, the residential demographic will likely change to single people without children who may use the shuttle. The habits of these residents are not reflected in the existing survey data.

  3. I love the suggestion about running a shuttle and seeing if anyone takes it. They are building our city more than it needs to be. What is going to be with all these apartments in 10 years? Who is going to live in them.
    The traffic already on Sandy Springs circle and Johnson Ferry is a mess, and they are having on street parking for the residents as opposed to another lane for traffic.
    I am not sure where the logic is with that, but hey I am just a resident who drives those roads several times a day.

  4. As a resident in one of the affected neighborhoods, I will say that I’m not totally against the project. I don’t think we need 5 lanes, but 3 would be good (dedicated shuttle lane). The bike path and wider walking sidewalks would be awesome!

    It’s true there isn’t much traffic now, but as others have mentioned, we are soon to experience a dramatic increase in traffic/residents with all of the new apartments, town homes, construction of new city center, and mercedes benz plant. And for this reason, testing a shuttle service now would be a waste of time, due to the influx of thousands of new residents who will appear over the next year (as someone mentioned an entirely different demographic who would actually use the shuttle).

    The project on Mt. Vernon is trying to get ahead of that. But adding extra driving lanes is not the answer since, as also mentioned, the roswell intersection is the real problem.

  5. hey, here’s a logical idea…how about when they decide to add curbing to one lane roads around here, they put the curbs far enough to the right so when 1 car is turning left the cars behind them can go around the turning car…. hmmmmm

    I didn’t get an engineering degree to figure that one out…or do you need help. If the 1 car turning left blocks the whole lane because of curbing..guess what?? that backs up the entire 1 lane road.

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