After learning that the Georgia Department of Transportation’s I-285 top end project might take down their homes, residents of new townhomes have sent a letter in opposition and are considering legal action against the department to fight to keep their property.
In Sandy Springs, properties facing significant displacement include a house at 374 Mount Vernon Highway; two townhomes off Lake Forrest Drive at I-285; and two buildings in the Sierra Place apartments on Northwood Drive, according to maps revealed by GDOT in January.
Rebecca Trumbo and Kalen Wheeler, two townhome owners targeted for displacement at the Parc at Chastain on Taylor Way, learned of the plan from the Reporter and said they were not contacted by GDOT.
“These are new-construction townhomes. I just closed in April. A lot of us did,” Trumbo said. “So we haven’t even lived here a year.”
“Well, I hope they are offering me a lot of money,” Wheeler said when she first heard about the conceptual plans.
The townhomes are on Taylor Way, a street near Lake Forrest Drive that dead-ends at I-285’s embankment. While only two of the five townhomes are marked for displacement, the owners fear all five homes on the road will have to come down.
“We don’t see how they can’t tear down all five. They’re townhomes with mutual walls,” Trumbo said.
Trumbo said the homeowners plan to band together to hire a lawyer to fight the potential taking.
“We are discussing hiring a lawyer all together to fight this because none of us have heard from GDOT,” Trumbo said.
While Trumbo said she plans to fight the plan and does not want to move anytime soon, she has chosen to put her house up for sale because she fears the property values may drop.
“I put my house on the market…on the advice that it can’t hurt to try,” Trumbo said. “Now, I can get out of it without a loss, but who knows what will happen in two years? It’s a gamble.”
Scott Higley, the director of strategic communications for GDOT, said because the townhomes were identified as potential impacts and have not been approved for early right of way acquisition, no direct outreach has occurred.
“The Public Information Open House [in January] was the first opportunity for the general public to view concept layouts for the proposed express lanes project and allow the general public to submit formal comments on the project, and also why we work hard to publicize the meetings and encourage attendance,” Higley said. “Based on public feedback, the department will continue to refine the concept over the next several years, so elements of the I-285 Top End Express Lanes may change.”
Higley said it is possible that the amount of required right of way could shift based on the evolution of the concept as more project information related to land surveys, constructability, utilities and others become available.
Approximately 155 properties in Brookhaven, Dunwoody and Sandy Springs could be affected or demolished by the project, according to new maps of the toll lane concepts unveiled during an open house in January.
In October, GDOT said it is delaying the construction timeline for the controversial toll lanes project by years, with the earliest start date sometime in 2023, to get more competitive bids from contractors.
The toll lanes projects are separate from the I-285/Ga. 400 interchange reconstruction project that is currently under construction. That project, known as “Transform 285/400,” began in 2017 and is expected to wrap up in late 2020. However, the toll lanes would run through the interchange area and connect with it.
City Council members expressed their concern with the plan displacing residents at a Jan. 24 retreat.
City Councilmember Chris Burnett asked GDOT Program Manager Tim Matthews if the department will be having a meeting with the displaced residents in Sandy Springs for this project.
Matthews said GDOT already had the one meeting they plan on having for the top end project, involving a concentrated area of I-285 around Chamblee-Dunwoody Road that was expected to have around 20 displacements.
“Generally, you don’t have to do any dedicated outreach when someone is displaced,” Matthews said at the retreat. “There was only just that one concentrated area.”
Sorren Thomas, the homeowner of 374 Mount Vernon marked for displacement, said GDOT already took part of his home for a previous project.
“If they take any property from my lot, I have no home left,” Thomas said in an email. “[The] house was cut off where kitchen and living room is.” Thomas could not be reached for further comment.
Sierra Place apartment complex residents could not be reached for comment.
Trumbo said she plans to fight GDOT but is not too optimistic regarding the outcome.
“It’s disappointing but it sounds like there isn’t anything for us to do,” Trumbo said. “I understand what they have to do for the city but it’s just unfortunate.”