Roswell paid double in a land deal gone wrong for the Oxbo Road project

An image of Oxbo Road in Roswell where construction to realign the road has stopped temporarily.  Photo: Adrianne Murchison

An image of Oxbo Road in Roswell where construction to realign the road has stopped temporarily. Photo: Adrianne Murchison

Roswell paid more than twice as much as planned for a group of parcels on Maple Street for the Oxbo Road project, according to investigation findings by Jarrard & Davis law firm. In addition, the city gave away land in the deal that later sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Roswell closed a $300,000 transaction to buy several pieces of land from developer Jeffrey Reddick of Southern Pines Construction Company in September 2018, including property Reddick wasn’t in possession of, the investigation report said. The city later paid the actual property owner, Leslie Reed, a total of $299,000 for temporary ownership of the land, $75,000 for demolishing structures on the property and $60,000 in settlement funds for trespassing before negotiations started.

The city is realigning Oxbo Road and nearby side streets and intends to build a safer intersection with South Atlanta Street. The city closed the road in January 2020 when the project was slated to last up to 24 months. Most roadwork has been halted for much of 2021 for the relocation of utility poles by Georgia Power.

The investigation report on the project, released last Thursday, found extreme mismanagement on the troubled project. The failure to have a project manager, no utility relocation plan and failure to follow proper steps to purchase private property or access rights were cited as contributing to delays and cost overruns.

The Oxbo realignment is a Transportation Special Purpose Local Optional Sales Tax project approved by voters in 2016. The investigation was launched by Mayor Lori Henry in February. At that time, officials estimated Oxbo Road was costing the city nearly $14 million — a significant increase from the original budget of $9 million — due to issues including a $2.5 million legal settlement with the owners of Roswell Hardware Company, who the city paid $3 million in 2017 for property located at the corner of S. Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road.

The Jarrard & Davis investigation report shows several payments to property owners over the years from less than $10,000 to hundreds of thousands of dollars for the city to acquire easements or outright ownership.

The investigation report showed the city’s deal with Southern Pines included buying property and access rights to land the construction company owned at 44 and 50 Maple Street. It also included granting the city access to land at 20 and 38 Maple Street that Southern Pines intended to buy from Reed.

City Council approved the original $300,000 transaction with Southern Pines in July 2018. Roswell paid Reddick the following September with the understanding that the company would grant the city access upon buying the land, the report said. But he never actually bought the land.

“Southern Pines did not refund any of the purchase price to the city to account for this breach of contract,” the Jarrard & Davis report reads. “It would appear the city’s damages are in excess of $299,000 for which Southern Pines should be responsible.”

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has attempted to reach Reddick and left phone messages.

The investigation report shows Roswell’s deal with Reddick included giving the developer property the city owned at an additional address, 64 Maple Street. The investigation found that Southern Pines sold the property to another party for $265,000 in 2019.

Councilwoman Christine Hall who was not serving on City Council in 2018 when the deal was made with Reddick said Roswell must implement new processes.

“The mayor and council gave up so much in exchange for so little and a now it’s just a nightmare,” she said. “Processes and procedures and transparencies are clearly broken, and have been for a number of years.”

Councilman Marcelo Zapata was serving on the Council in 2018 and cast the sole vote in opposition to making a land transaction with Southern Pines.

“I don’t recall the details,” Zapata said. “I knew that something was not clear ... I didn’t feel I had all the right information.”

A link to the investigation report can be found on the city of Roswell website.