An illustration shows the greenspaces and roads as they would appear in the grid concepts for the Johnson Ferry/Mount Vernon intersection presented at an Aug. 30 meeting. This illustration shows the concepts without full landscaping. (City of Sandy Springs)

Reactions to the “grid” concepts presented for Sandy Springs’ Mount Vernon/Johnson Ferry intersection were mixed at an Aug. 30 meeting. A particular point of controversy was that the concept relies on eventually taking a long-time resident’s house for a cut-through street.

The meeting, which was held at City Hall and attended by more than 200 residents, presented two grid concepts for the intersection, which is 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 said there were more than 150 accidents reported there in 2014 through 2016.

The grids are similar to concepts pitched to residents at the March meeting. But a big change is the proposed location of a new cut-through street. Instead of going through library property at 395 Mount Vernon Highway N.E., it would cut through an existing single-family house, requiring the city to acquire the home of Doris Spruill, a 91-year-old woman who has lived at the property for 68 years.

The cut-through comes in as a way to maintain a connection between Mount Vernon and Johnson Ferry for crossover traffic. Without it, drivers would need to use Glenridge Drive.

The cut-through road would be built in a second phase of the project, after the house needed on Mount Vernon Highway “becomes available,” the city said.

That drew criticism from many at the meeting. One resident who said she lives in the neighborhood supports remaking the intersection, but said the city’s desire to take the house, even eventually, once she moves or dies, “sounds awful.”

Work to remake this intersection began more than ten years ago in 2007. For several years, the city worked on a redesign involving dual roundabouts, which drew immediate criticism.

One option involving a roundabout was presented at a meeting earlier this year in March, but was taken out of the running after criticism from residents, said Alan Johnson, the city’s manager of projects funded by a transportation special local option tax, which includes the intersection.

“It became apparent that the grid system would work as well or better than the roundabouts,” Johnson said in meeting opening statement. 

The grid concepts would eliminate the intersection, 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.

An illustration shows the “full grid” concept for the Johnson Ferry/Mt. Vernon intersection. (City of Sandy Springs)

The grid comes in two versions, the “full” grid and a “compressed” grid where the streets are pinched together more closely, requiring less land-taking. In the full version, the city would need to take all commercial properties on the south side of the intersection between Roswell and Boylston including a Chevron gas station, bank and an Enterprise car rental outlet, officials said. The compressed grid would likely save those properties, and an estimated $5 to $10 million on right-of-way acquisition costs, Johnson said.

An illustration shows the “compressed grid” concept. (City of Sandy Springs)

Both designs also preserve some amount of green space for a park at Roswell Road. The full grid would create a miniature park of 2.4 acres. The compressed grid would save 0.8 acres.

In both options, the streets become two-way all the way, instead of one-way at the Roswell Road intersection as they are today. And all options show a 10-foot-wide multi-use path lining the streets, though the full version has them zig-zagging through the greenspace.

The concept would also prohibit making a left-hand onto Mount Vernon from southbound Roswell Road and a right-hand turn onto Johnson Ferry from northbound Roswell. Officials said this change would improve traffic congestion and safety.

Residents listen to a presentation on the Johnson Ferry/Mount Vernon concepts at an Aug. 30 meeting before breaking off to ask questions to consultants and city officials. (Evelyn Andrews)

Comments from residents

Scott Nelson, a Glenridge resident, said he and his wife have safety concerns about the proposal, and may stop their kids from riding their bikes to the library, as they often do now, if it is implemented.

“The whole point is to make it a walkable community, but it seems like they’re trying to make it like downtown Atlanta,” he said. “Their actions don’t match their words.”

Another resident said he isn’t completely sold on the concepts, but thinks something needs to be done, even if there is the eventually house-taking.

“The city may just have to go with the least bad decision,” he said.

Resident Bobby Rinzler said he is unsure if the project is needed. He lives on Johnson Ferry, and said, outside of peak times, the traffic isn’t bad enough, in his opinion, to warrant this expensive and disruptive remake. He is concerned it could decrease property values in the neighborhood, he said.

Another said that Cobb County commuters will always be using the intersection and clogging traffic.

“Cobb commuters are not my number one priority. Safety is my number one priority,” she said.

She also said other residents she has heard from are not persuaded by the increased greenspace.

“Nobody cares about the greenspace,” she said.

Some residents were visibly frustrated at the city’s decision to conduct the meeting as an open house, where people individually ask questions to consultants, rather than allow the crowd to ask questions and hear others’.

Others were concerned about a short timeframe to turn in comments. Comments were technically due at the meeting, but city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said residents can continue to send comments until the City Council work session next week where they will discuss the proposals. The concepts are similar to one’s presented in March, where residents had 30 days to comment, she said.

Others were concerned that many who are out of town on this holiday weekend will not get a chance to comment on the changes before the council’s work session.

“Not giving people more of an oppurtunity to comment makes me feel like they are just jamming this down our throats,” one resident said.

But that resident said he did support the overall concept, saying “I’ve never understood that crazy triangle down there.”

Next steps

The City Council will discuss the proposal in a work session Sept. 4. If the proposal moves forward, design would take 12-18 months and right-of-way acquisition would take 18-24, the city said. Construction of phase one, which includes the grid system, would take 24 months. The second phase, the cut-through road, would take about six months, the city said.

The budget is not available yet and would be determined during the design process, Kraun said.

Councilmember Chris Burnett, who represents part of the intersection, said the city will try to address the citizen concerns while still getting “the best results.”

“I feel like our citizens want us to do this,” he said. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

For more information, including the meeting presentation and pictures of the design, visit the city’s webpage on the project.