Sandy Springs homeowners say they’re left in limbo by road widening project

A rendering of a planned roundabout on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs  (Courtesy City of Sandy Springs)

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A rendering of a planned roundabout on Hammond Drive in Sandy Springs (Courtesy City of Sandy Springs)

City is contemplating use of eminent domain to acquire final nine properties

Moving is not something Virginia Ready, 87, expected to have to do at this point in her life.

The Sandy Springs resident bought her home in on Hammond Drive in 1963, and has seen the north Fulton city grow to more than 110,00 people.

With the population increase, Hammond has become a heavily traveled corridor from Roswell Road up to Glenridge Drive. Since 2020, the city — citing safety and traffic concerns — has worked to buy the homes and property needed for a $60 million project that will widen the road to two lanes in each direction with roundabouts and sidewalks on each side.

Construction is estimated to begin in two to three years but crews have already started to demolish houses and clear properties, Public Works Director Marty Martin said.

“I hear them tearing houses down and grading the property,” Ready said. “They’ve done everything but come in the door ... I don’t know what to think.”

Reedy’s home is in the path of the project — one of eight properties the city still needs to acquire and could be taken through eminent domain, or the forced purchase of private property for public use. City officials will decide the eminent domain issue in coming weeks.

At least 30 homeowners have voluntarily sold their homes for the project. In addition to the eight homes, the city also has to buy smaller parcels that won’t require the displacement of residents.

Ready and other homeowners said they do not want to move. Several have hired an attorney to negotiate with the city, and represent them in a possible eminent domain process. Ready is not represented by the lawyer.

Attorney Christian Torgrimson said via email that she represents some of the remaining property owners.

“We are working with the City to negotiate and recover just and adequate compensation,” Torgrimson said.

More lanes to improve safety?

Widening of the Hammond Drive corridor will likely decrease vehicle crashes and allow space for pedestrians and bicyclists through a dedicated underpass, the public works director said.

Sandy Springs’ most recent traffic data show an average of 17,500 vehicles pass through Hammond Drive daily. In addition, the city’s most recent numbers on accidents show 724 crashes occurred on Hammond from 2014-18, including one fatality.

Sandy Springs plans to widen Hammond Drive from Roswell Road to Glenridge Drive and continue the widening over to Barfield Road and Ga. 400. On Hammond, designs add a lane in each direction with more at Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive.

The changes would affect nine streets and include sidewalks, greenspace and roundabouts at Hilderbrand Drive and Lorell Terrace; and a pedestrian underpass with multi-use paths at Kayron Drive.

Sandy Springs has most of the road widening project funded. A total of $12.5 million from the 2016 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax was used for initial property acquisitions and the design concept, Martin said.

Another $38.5 million from the 2021 TSPLOST is currently being used for full design work, property acquisitions, utility and construction work along the corridor from Boylston to Glenridge, according to the city.

The $9 million needed for the balance of the project is not yet funded, Martin said.

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An image Hammond Drive. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

An image Hammond Drive. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Combined ShapeCaption
An image Hammond Drive. Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

Credit: Adrianne Murchison

No property acquisitions thus far have been through eminent domain, Martin said. The city has not contacted property owners to make offers, he confirmed. Instead, Sandy Springs is leaving it up to homeowners to contact the city if they wish to sell.

That process is causing confusion for the remaining homeowners.

Ready and her late husband raised two daughters at her Hammond Drive home. Her remodeling efforts include a new driveway and an $11,000 retaining wall, she said.

‘It would be a hardship for me to move and I’m close to everything,” Ready said. “I would like to stay in the area and we know what the costs (of homes) are around here.”

Oliver Dunatov moved into his Hilderbrand Drive home near a planned roundabout in November 2020, unaware that massive roadwork was on the horizon.

Neither the sellers nor his real estate agent disclosed the pending project, he said. He learned about it from a neighbor and the police after calling 911 with concerns about the abandoned house next door. The arriving officers told him the home was owned by the city.

“My neighbor said, ‘Don’t you know what’s happening?’” Dunatov said.

Dunatov‘s home is not on the list of homes required for the project, but he still has questions. Emails and phone calls to city officials have yielded little information, he said.

“No one seems to be able to tell me what’s going on,” he said. “I get that it’s a complicated project but should I start packing or thinking about buying another house? There’s limited supply in the market.”

Neighborhood resident Ben Hendry was notified by mail in early 2020 that his Kayron Drive property would likely be wanted to make way for the pedestrian path. He attended an open house on the project in February of that year and hasn’t been contacted by the city since, which has his family in limbo, he said.

Hendry and his wife moved into their home 18 years ago and want to receive the full value of their property in addition to payment covering the cost of moving.

“It would be hard to sell it to anyone else because of the intentions of the city,” Hendry said. “I’m understanding of a fair price but Sandy Spring is a very wealthy city and very ambitious with what it wants to build.”

Hendry, who is represented by Torgrimson, said he believes the widening at the Roswell Road intersection, and realigning at Boylston, is helpful. But other aspects of the project are not necessary, he said.

If the project is completed as planned, motorists on Kayron would no longer have access to Hammond due to the new multi-use path that would be built in his yard.

“Sandy Springs has essentially said, ‘Here’s our intentions,’” Hendry said. “They never said, ‘We are sorry about this.’”