Before the city of Sandy Springs takes his land at 80 Johnson Ferry Road for a water detention project, Stephen Johnston is busy documenting Civil War-era artifacts on the property.
The city council on June 3 voted to approve the use of eminent domain to take more than half of Johnston’s land, which contains a tributary flowing from Marsh Creek. City plans call for the land to become home to a dam and detention pond, which will keep future developers in Sandy Springs’ planned City Center from having to build their own detention areas.
“The bottom line is I don’t want the thing here at all,” Johnston said. “If the city is successful in building this, it will wipe the history out.”
Johnston, a Sandy Springs resident since 1988, purchased the ¾-acre Johnson Ferry property in 2010 to house his telecommunications business.
He discovered a 28-foot well when laying asphalt behind the house. An engineer told him it was likely built in the 1800s. Heritage Sandy Springs’ Director of Historic Resources Kimberly Brigance, whom Johnston contacted to research the property and investigate artifacts, says it’s a mystery why a well exists on the property since it is located close to springs.
While he may eventually use the well to retain rainwater for irrigation, Johnston says he first wants to make sure nothing of any significance lies at the bottom of the hand-dug hole.
Research also unearthed that a wood-framed house once sat on the property, and underneath the current house lies the remains of a river rock chimney. Old pipes also protrude along the banks of the stream, and Johnston thinks either a springhouse or a mill was on the property.
The city offered to pay Johnston $131,000 for the property in the backyard up to about a foot from the house, but he thinks that appraisal is too low. He says the city took his rejection of the appraisal as a rejection of the offer, and then voted to authorize the use of eminent domain on June 3.
Johnston says he’s still willing to negotiate, and has hired his own appraiser, but his preference would be to keep the property for himself.
“Our intention was to make this into a park-like area back here and clean it up,” he said. He put steps into the sloping property for easier access, but has stopped that project in lieu of the city’s plans.
The city has negotiated the purchase or authorized eminent domain for a number of properties in the City Center area. For the Marsh Creek project, the council also voted on June 3 to allow eminent domain for 6332 North Hampton Drive. Negotiations have also not been successful for that property, appraised for $29,600.
More successful has been the city’s bid to purchase 100 Johnson Ferry Road, which houses the Sandy Springs Mason Lodge, for $1,200,000.
As for 80 Johnson Ferry Road, “at least we got to go down there,” Brigance said. “Hopefully by telling the story, a few more people will become interested in the history that happened here.”