Amid boiling controversy over a Mount Vernon Highway widening concept, a Sandy Springs official is finally giving residents the clear promise they’ve been demanding: No eminent-domaining of houses for the final project.
“We’re taking slivers [of right of way]. We’re not taking houses,” said Steve Tiedemann, the city’s TSPLOST program manager, who is overseeing the Mount Vernon project as one of many items funded by a transportation special local option sales tax.
“In fact, we will be avoiding any major impacts,” added Tiedemann, explaining the city intends to work mostly within the existing right of way, though it may need to take smaller pieces of adjacent property. “We’re gonna see what fits in there,” rather than taking the whole surrounding area, he said.
Tiedemann said that specifically includes a high brick retaining wall around the Registry Glen subdivision at the Glenridge Drive intersection, whose potential loss was another major concern. “It’s not our intent to take out that wall,” he said, adding that the city might take property to widen the right of way closer to the wall.
Tiedemann’s statements follow weeks of growing local controversy fueled by other officials – including City Councilmembers Chris Burnett and Gabriel Sterling – saying that house-taking could not be ruled out and that it was too early in the planning process to take local input about the possibility. On Oct. 24, Burnett attended a two-hour meeting of local homeowners associations, where he apologized for the city’s “poor job” of communication about the Mount Vernon concept.
The general concept is adding multi-use paths and transit lanes to Mount Vernon in some configuration, with a few different early options. The concept has been on paper for months and is a combo of items on the TSPLOST project list approved by voters a year ago.
But conceptual drawings showing possible house-takings were not widely known until recent weeks, when surveyors began appearing in local yards and city-hired consultants held a meeting to discuss transit preferences. HOA leaders say their concerns about property impacts were brushed aside as premature by city officials and the consultants, and they fear losing meaningful input, along with their homes.
Burnett indicated at that meeting that city councilmembers themselves know little about the current status of the project and its concepts, including the surveying or the content of the consultants’ meetings, and added he had been pressing to get more information from city staff.
Tiedemann commented on the project during an informal conversation at an Oct. 26 city meeting about a different project. As city spokesperson Sharon Kraun mentioned that the project is still conceptual and that house-taking or other right of way issue cannot be ruled out yet, Tiedemann said, “That’s my project” and gave the definitive comments. Asked about the possibility of house-taking for the project, he showed no hesitation in saying, “No.”
The city will hold its first general public meeting about the Mount Vernon concept on Nov. 14, 5:30-7:30 p.m., at Mount Vernon Presbyterian Church, Fellowship Hall, 471 Mount Vernon Highway.