Since Doris Spruill moved into her Mount Vernon Highway house 68 years ago, she and her family have replaced the broomsedge grass of rural Sandy Springs with mature trees and expansive gardens. Now the city is seeking to buy it for a different future — apparently a new cut-through road concept already so controversial that neighbors have launched a yard-sign opposition campaign.

Spruill said she’ll hear out the city’s offer, but added, “I don’t think anything could make me move.” At 91, she planned to spend the rest of her life amid the greenery, and she is now blind as well, relying on her lifelong memories of her home to get around.

Doris Spruill on the garden patio of her Mount Vernon Highway home, which the city is attempting to buy, apparently to replace with a new road. (John Ruch)

The city won’t say why it wants to buy the property, Spruill said, but she assumes it is for the cut-through road between Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry Road proposed in March as part of a grid-like redesign of those streets’ intersection with Roswell Road a block or so to the west. The city has proposed running the new road through The Reading Park, a green space that sits directly between Spruill’s home and the Sandy Springs Branch Library.

City spokesperson Sharon Kraun did not confirm that the city wants Spruill’s property for the cut-through, but didn’t deny it, either.

“The city is looking at all options available to provide the best possible project for this intersection safety and improvement project,” was the only comment Kraun would provide, declining to say whether the city is still considering The Reading Park or other alternatives.

The Reading Park sits on land owned by Fulton County, which has not responded to repeated comment requests. Neighborhood rumors have swirled that the county opposes the cut-through.

Many local homeowners associations’ members definitely oppose it. Yard signs are sprinkled across local lawns, reading, “No cut through!!! Save our homes. Save our park. Save our neighborhood.”

The signs were designed by Brooke Henze, a Johnson Ferry Road resident who recently opened a gift shop on Hilderbrand Drive. Various HOAs are paying for and distributing the signs, she said. Her house is across the street from The Reading Park, and she doesn’t think a cut-through that displaces Spruill from her home is a better solution.

“I want our leadership to be accountable to their vague claims of ‘traffic efficiency for the greater good’ and why destruction of homes, a long-standing neighborhood and property is warranted to provide, what, one extra potential minute through a traffic light just to get bottlenecked at Roswell Road?” said Henze in an email. “Our neighborhood is being used as a playground for trying to bandage all the misguided traffic planning and development choices made by current leadership.”

Bob Lepping, president of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, says most City Council members have visited the area at the invitation of local HOA representatives, partly to see the park first-hand rather than on an abstract map. His HOA is particularly concerned that a new cut-through would increase commuter traffic already filling its neighborhood.

“Right now, the design is not desirable for everybody,” said Lepping. “…We’re trying to keep an open dialogue with the city.”

The cut-through idea is just part of the city’s long and complicated attempt to improve the complex Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry intersection.

Currently, it has an unusual X-shaped configuration complicated by Boylston Drive entering from the south. Located just a block east of busy Roswell Road, the intersection is known as dangerous and gridlocked during rush hour, though traffic can be light at most other times. City officials say there were more than 150 accidents reported there in 2014 through 2016.

A yard sign opposing the cut-through road stands in the yard of a Johnson Ferry Road house. (John Ruch)

For several years, the city worked on a redesign involving dual roundabouts. Those options drew immediate criticism after their 2015 unveiling for the land-taking required at senior residences and other spots, and for concerns they would make traffic worse and more dangerous.

In the latest proposals issued earlier this year, a dual roundabout is still an option. But city officials clearly favor two new grid options, saying they are less expensive and, unlike the roundabouts, would improve future rush-hour traffic flow.

In the grid concept, the intersection would be eliminated, with Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry reconfigured as separate streets running parallel, though very close together, through that area. Boylston Drive would end there in a T intersection rather than going across both streets.

The cut-through comes in as a way to maintain a connection between Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry for crossover traffic. It is proposed as a four-lane road about a block long, with traffic lights.

The grid concept could still work without the cut-through road, just less efficiently, according to Steve Tiedemann, the city’s manager of projects funded by a transportation special local option tax, which includes the intersection.

“It’s not the end of the world for me if it goes away,” Tiedemann previously said of the cut-through road concept. However, it would mean crossover traffic likely increasing on Glenridge Drive, about 1,500 feet farther east.

The cut-through has been the biggest sticking point in community opposition, with many residents saying they might otherwise support the grid options. Lepping said that killing the cut-through could inconvenience some drivers a bit longer, but also means “you’re not taking parks and land that is valuable to the public and you’re not dispersing traffic into a neighborhood.” He said he thinks a “win-win for the neighborhoods” is still possible in the designs.

A wooded area of mature trees behind Spruill’s home. (John Ruch)

“I do not want a cut-through,” said Spruill, who has one of the opposition signs in her front yard.

Her daughter Cathy says that the city is only offering money, “whereas this is her life, what she does, the way she lives.”

Spruill calls her home the “best of both worlds” — easy access to the city’s shops, but lots of peace and quiet and greenery. She and her family are responsible for a lot of that greenery. Her late husband’s rose bed is still there; so are her mother’s peonies. There’s an extensive vegetable garden, and in the back, a small woodland of mature trees that her children watched grow from saplings.

When Doris and George Marshall Spruill moved to Sandy Springs from Buckhead nearly 70 years ago, Roswell Road was two lanes, and they erected a picket fence along Mount Vernon to keep neighboring cows and mules from trampling the kids. Sitting on a rear patio amid the greenery on a recent afternoon, she said the city’s wrong if it thinks she’ll accept being eminent-domained and leave to a nursing home.

She declined to say how much the city had offered, only that it wasn’t enough to give up her home. As she spoke, the traffic on nearby streets could barely be heard in the garden’s quiet.

“Can you imagine this being converted into pavement?” she asked.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled the name of Bob Lepping.

John Ruch

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