Roswell mayor launches investigation into a road project costing city additional millions

The Oxbo realignment is a Transportation Special Purpose Local Optional Sales Tax project approved by voters in 2016. The city plans to reconstruct an unsafe intersection at S. Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road and convert Oxbo Drive into a two-way street between Atlanta and Mimosa Boulevard. AJC FILE
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The Oxbo realignment is a Transportation Special Purpose Local Optional Sales Tax project approved by voters in 2016. The city plans to reconstruct an unsafe intersection at S. Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road and convert Oxbo Drive into a two-way street between Atlanta and Mimosa Boulevard. AJC FILE

Roswell Mayor Lori Henry is launching an investigation into a road project that has taken the city over budget by millions of dollars.

Henry said an independent law firm will investigate mismanagement of the purchase of a hardware store property for the realignment of Oxbo Road and defaulting on an agreement with the former owners.

Residents have called the project located near historic downtown Roswell an “epic failure.”

During a recent meeting, City Council approved a $2.5 million settlement to Jason, Alfred and Benita White, family owners of Roswell Hardware Company which was located at the corner of S. Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road.

The Oxbo project was originally budgeted at nearly $9 million and including the settlement has cost the city $13.8 million, officials said. That included $83,000 per month in damages that the city had incurred since October.

“I have launched an investigation into this project,” Henry said. “We have been dealt a bad hand. We have been given a mess that (was) caused by previous mayor and Council. And we’ve been given a mess to clean ... up.”

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The Oxbo realignment is a Transportation Special Purpose Local Optional Sales Tax project approved by voters in 2016. The city plans to reconstruct an unsafe intersection at S. Atlanta Street and Oxbo Road and convert Oxbo Drive into a two-way street between Atlanta and Mimosa Boulevard. Plans also included new turning lanes, and making Pleasant Hill run two ways between Oxbo and Oak Street.

In 2017, Roswell paid the White family $3 million for temporary ownership of the 0.36-acre property. The agreement was the property would be returned to the owners in ready-to-build condition by Oct. 24, 2020, with a newly constructed alleyway for the hardware business.

Phone calls to a White family member and the attorney representing the family in the settlement with the city of Roswell were not returned to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

Transportation Director Muhammad Rauf said Monday the coronavirus pandemic and the relocation of about 25 utility poles by Georgia Power have caused delays in the project. The city is also negotiating with a separate property owner for right-of-way acquisition. Rauf said the project is now slated to be complete in 18 to 24 months.

City Attorney David Davidson said if the $2.5 million settlement was not approved, Roswell was at risk of a lawsuit and mounting financial losses.

Council members and residents faulted the transportation department, the legal department and city administration for poorly managing the agreement with Roswell Hardware and the realignment of Oxbo Road — a portion of which has been closed to traffic for months.

“Where to start on this inexcusable, unusually long project, badly and poorly managed project, in need of a second bailout from tax payers’ money?” said Zapata, the only Council member to vote against the settlement.

After three virtual public commenters criticized the city on the project, Henry disconnected a fourth speaker, Jason Yowell, for blaming Davidson and Rauf.

“You are not an expert,” Henry said. “I am launching an investigation. It’s an independent investigation and I will not allow you to attack staff.”