By Joe Earle
joeearle@reporternewspapers.net

Getting out of his driveway can be quite a challenge for Dr. James Shanks.

Dr. James Shanks doesn’t think of himself as a holdout.

“No, I’m not a holdout,” he said.

After all, he said, there were times through the years when he thought he might just sell his medical office at 1005 Hammond Drive and move on. But something always came up or a proposed deal fell through and a sale never quite worked out. So he’s still seeing patients in the brick suburban house he bought for his office in 1980.

The problem is that his neighbors sold out years ago. The homes were razed to make room for Concourse, a gleaming high-rise office park.

Now Shanks’ office – once a fairly typical house for its neighborhood – now is the last of its kind. It sits alone on Hammond Drive. Shanks can see a Concourse tower looming above the trees in his back yard.

And getting out of his driveway?

“It’s chaos right now,” he said. “It’s wild. I can hardly get in and out because of the traffic.”

It wasn’t always like that. In 1980, when Shanks bought the house on Hammond Drive to use as his doctor’s office, the road was two lanes wide. Work had been done on culverts to prepare to expand Hammond to four lanes, he said, but the expansion hadn’t happened yet. Hammond still felt like a country road.

“We used to go to lunch at Rich’s at Perimeter,” he said, “and we thought, ‘They’ll all go bankrupt.’ We were the only ones eating.”

The neighbors initially fought Shanks’ efforts to have the house rezoned for office use, he said, but soon they were planning to sell a developer their whole neighborhood of 1950s and 1960 ranch houses as a block. The neighborhood disappeared in one of metro Atlanta’s earliest neighborhood buyouts.

Shanks wasn’t part of the buyout. Twice before, during the 1960s, he’d had to move his downtown medical office because of planned MARTA construction, he said. In 1970, he decided to set up his office in the Sandy Springs area to be near Northside Hospital.

When the original buyout offers came for his new office, he decided to wait and see what would happen rather than take an offer and have to move again. The developer gave up and designed the office complex around him. Shanks at first thought the buildings going up around him might be four or five stories, like the ones over by the hospital. “We never dreamed they’d be 31 stories,” he said.

Three decades after he moved his office onto Hammond, Shanks’ neighborhood is a much different place. He once saw foxes and other wildlife, even a beaver, in his yard. Now Hammond Drive sprawls seven lanes wide in front of Shanks’ place. Road-widening has twice taken slices of his land, Shanks said, but his office remains nestled in the trees, perhaps a couple of hundred feet off the road. Drivers rolling past probably don’t even notice it.

The only sign it’s there is a large, little-used mailbox marked “Shanks 1005” that stands at the end of his driveway. Mail carriers didn’t want to have to stop on Hammond, so they asked him to install a second mailbox at the house. That way, they could pull off the busy street to sort and deliver his mail.

Concourse covers 63 acres. Shanks’ office remains the only parcel in the large block that the developers never acquired. Does his presence bother folks at Concourse? “Not at all,” said David Shope, vice president of leasing for the office park. “I don’t even notice it at all. It’s just kind of silly, being down there.”

Shanks’ major complaint is the traffic. And the increase in taxes as land in the area has appreciated. Still, he doesn’t seem to be planning on going anywhere soon.

“We’re still hanging around here,” he said.

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