Residents near the intersection of Mount Paran and Powers Ferry roads have rallied against a roundabout expected to be built early next year. They argue the roundabout will mostly help commuters while negatively affecting their properties, including requiring demolition of a nearly century-old building once used as a country store.
“We’d like Sandy Springs to make a priority of residential neighborhoods and not make it a bypass for commuters,” said Aaron Gill, a homeowner at the intersection.
The start of the project is quickly approaching, with utility relocation expected to begin in the fall and construction by spring 2020. The city is currently working on securing right of way for the roundabout.
The $2.5 million project is expected to cost $1.2 million for construction, $800,000 for right of way and $300,000 for design. The city did not respond to a request for comment, but has said the roundabout would improve safety by reducing side-impact crashes and installing pedestrian improvements. It’s also expected to reduce congestion, according to the city.
The proposal to build a roundabout at that intersection, which is currently a four-way stop, has been in the works for years. But some residents said they are new and have only recently heard about it, including one saying he learned of it only when he spotted a surveyor measuring in his front yard.
The roundabout would take property from the property owners surrounding the intersection, including a nearly century-old building that was once used a neighborhood country store and gas station. The building, which is now used as a carriage house and garage, has been there since 1927, the owner Joe Card said. The right of way needed for the roundabout cuts through the building and would need to be demolished, Card said.
It’s not on any official historic registries, but it does have interesting history, Card said. It is a small, white building on the edge of the property that also has a large single-family house. It’s topped with a cupola and weathervane.
The building has been recently renovated, but it is still built out of bricks dating to the early 1900s, he said.
From 1930 to 1956, it was used by various companies as a gas station and store, with pumps located where the street is now, said Card, who has tracked down the old deeds and site plans.
At one point, it was known as Tucker Store. Run by “Old Man Tucker,” it was a neighborhood staple similar to the remaining Mt. Paran Country Store, Card said. The building still is seen as a small cultural landmark by the neighborhood.
The gas station was owned by the Gulf Oil Corporation until 1973 when it was sold to the Mt. Paran Area Civic Association and a few years later to a developer. A restriction prohibiting using the property as a commercial business was added to the site at that time, according to documents provided by Card.
Not only does the building give the property character, he said, but it serves as Card’s office for his two jobs – a builder and a nuclear energy trader. The building also provides a buffer from the busy intersection’s noise and appearance, he said.
“If they take that down I just don’t know what I’m going to be left with,” he said.
He said the city has been responsive to all of his concerns, and he believes that they can come to a compromise. But he’s still hoping that there is a way for the plan to change.
The neighbors have rallied together to try to convince the city to change the plan to a traffic signal or stop it and appeared together at the City Council to speak against it during public comment.
“We thought there maybe is a chance to slow this thing down,” Card said. “I just think the bad outweighs the good.”
David Steinfeld, who owns a house near the intersection, said at the City Council meeting that he only found out when he saw survey flags posted in his yard.
He said he believes the city should be pushing commuter traffic off of local roads onto other routes, not encouraging them to use their neighborhood streets. He also thinks the illustration the city has circulated is not “aesthetically pleasing,” with a large red circle and lack of landscaping.
“I don’t think it’s something we need to have and disrupt the whole neighborhood, so I would ask you to shelve the project,” Steinfeld said.
Gill, another homeowner, said he is concerned the roundabout couldn’t handle carpool traffic to the nearby Schenck School.
The neighbors haven’t been able to find traffic studies that show how it will work, which is “why a lot of us are getting concerned with how it is proceeding,” Gill said.
“It’s a very complicated intersection,” he said. “We just don’t understand how it will work.”
Monisha Longacre, who lives on Mount Paran Road, said she drives through the intersection multiple times a day and only has issues with congestion during rush hour.
“More often than not, it is fine,” she said. “The roundabout won’t alleviate it, just move the congestion down the road.”
Although a roundabout would not completely solve traffic congestion, Dr. Michael Rodgers, a roundabout expert and professor at Georgia Tech, said they generally bring big safety improvements.
A roundabout can “significantly improve” safety by reducing the number of places cars cross each other’s paths, he said.
And a traffic signal wouldn’t solve all of the residents’ concerns, Rodgers said, because installing signals often are more impactful than people think.
“People think adding a traffic signal is just dropping one in, but there’s a lot more to it,” he said.
Although roundabouts are becoming more common, many in the U.S. and Georgia are still unfamiliar with them, he said.
But departments of transportation across the country are looking at the safety improvement numbers and increasingly implementing them, Rodgers said.