With a new study of widening central Hammond Drive coming soon and the city buying up houses for right of way, residents are voicing fears of the neighborhood’s destruction.
“At this point, the rallying cry is, ‘Save the neighborhood,’” said Steve Oppenheimer, president of the Glenridge Hammond Neighborhood Association, adding that the road-widening is an old and controversial idea never supported by a traffic study.
Residents and city officials met at City Hall in early March in what both sides described as a positive first step in communications. Since the meeting, Mayor Rusty Paul and other leaders have expressed renewed interest in seeing a mass transit line running on Hammond, while Oppenheimer said any widening is a major threat to “one of Sandy Springs’ original and largest neighborhoods.”
“They wanted to hear what we are doing and reassurances we have not made plans without letting them know,” said City Councilman Tibby DeJulio. “They were concerned, and rightfully so.”
Officials said the city has been approved for an Atlanta Regional Commission grant to conduct a Hammond traffic study. “Of course, one of the options is always [to] do nothing,” DeJulio said. “The plan is that we need a plan.”
Oppenheimer said if the study is done objectively, residents are willing to consider it. But if it supports widening, that means demolishing homes. “The Number One problem is, widening Hammond Drive would destroy our neighborhood,” Oppenheimer said. “It will remove 100 homes, more than 100 homes, from our neighborhood and sever our neighborhood into two disconnected pieces.”
Hammond Drive is a major east-west connection between Mount Vernon Highway in Sandy Springs and Ashford-Dunwoody Road in Dunwoody. Most of Hammond has been expanded to various widths over the years, but the section between Roswell Road and Glenridge Drive in the Glenridge Hammond neighborhood remains two lanes. Government officials frequently call it a traffic bottleneck. Oppenheimer says it’s a street that maintains its residential character.
Plans to widen that section of Hammond go back a decade, and so does neighborhood distrust. “This project has a dubious history,” Oppenheimer said. “This has had a life of its own with no [traffic study] support for so long.”
Residents remain unhappy that a 2009 transit plan came without studies and with little public input, he said. Fears of a similar situation were sparked by the city’s recent purchases of three residential properties along Hammond as land-banking for the possible widening.
“We’ve said we’d look at the results of the [upcoming] study,” he said. “But we’re also asking for transparency to see what’s in the request for proposals.”
The shorter-term impacts of the widening discussions are a concern, too. Oppenheimer said the “cloud of uncertainty” about widening gave the city “an excuse not to install sidewalks” and led homeowners to not improve their houses. Some properties now are being redeveloped, and the city’s purchases “disrupt the natural renewal,” he said.
“We’ve very upset that they’re removing homes and neighbors from our neighborhood,” Oppenheimer said. “The city has already spent close to $2 million on land speculation” and removing properties from the tax roll, he said.
The city calls those purchases “protective buys” that save money in the long run, and more may be on the way if the price is right, DeJulio said.