Business and property owners showed up in force to the Brookhaven City Council’s March 14 meeting to speak out against proposed changes to Ashford-Dunwoody Road and specifically to the tricky Johnson Ferry Road intersection. The draft study is a conceptual plan for the busy thoroughfare the council will be considering for approval perhaps as soon as next month.
A major north-south route through the city, Ashford-Dunwoody Road is a largely two-lane road often overwhelmed by traffic from the hotels, schools and parks that it serves. Last year, the City Council hired Gresham, Smith and Partners for a $125,000 to come up with a “corridor vision” to improve the street.
Recommendations for long-term changes to the unusual Ashford-Dunwoody Road and Johnson Ferry Road intersection raised several questions and concerns, including from representatives of the Publix grocery store and of the Cambridge Square shopping center, where Kroger is the anchor store.
The draft concept design shows most north-south traffic being able to circumvent the intersection completely by creating new roads behind the Publix grocery store and the Cambridge Square shopping center. The existing intersection would remain for shopping access and east-west traffic.
At Cambridge Square, an existing rear driveway would be turned into a road aligned with Woods Drive, which is a driveway into Blackburn Park, with a signalized intersection. At Publix, an existing partial driveway would become a full cut-through road aligned with Blair Circle.
“I realize this is a vision … but I can’t with good conscience call this plan not specific – it’s pretty specific from what I’m looking at,” Andre Kolazar, senior vice president for Regency Partners, told council members. Regency Partners owns Cambridge Square.
“This road cuts through the rear of our property,” Kolazar said, adding the proposed road is “the total taking of our property.”
“And while you may be talking in generalities, the reality is simply adopting this plan will severely and negatively impact our center,” he said. “We will lose tenants.”
John Lundeen with Coro Realty Advisors, owner of the Publix property, said the biggest frustration he and Regency Partners have is the consultants and city not contacting them before drawing up of a draft plan.
“I’ve been involved with shopping centers for 40 years and have never seen an entry from behind,” Luden said. “We can only conclude you want this area redeveloped – this is like telling our anchor tenant we want something else here.”
Also speaking out were Laurenthia Mesh and her daughter, Euegenia Viener, owners of Old Five Points, or “Mesh Corners,” a strip center with several restaurants located at the tangled intersection.
The women and other business owners were troubled by a solid concrete median they believed was going to be installed at the intersection, therefore blocking access to their business. They started a petition and gathered more than 1,000 print and online signatures opposing the study.
Councilmember Linley Jones, whose district includes Ashford-Dunwoody Road, explained, however, the two women were distributing wrong information. The draft plans clearly state if the city does decide to build a median at the intersection at a future date, there will be curb cuts to allow for access to the businesses, she said.
Jones also addressed concerns raised by the property owners of the Public and Kroger stores.
“This is a very long-term vision,” she said. “I look forward to having future discussions with them … about the plans. I also believe the time to have those talks is if and when they redevelop.”
Jones said it shopping centers are known to have life spans and “sooner or later they tend to redevelop.”
She also said it has long been speculated the Kroger shopping center may be redeveloped “in the not too distant future.”
The concerns the Kroger and Publix property owners raised about not being included in preliminary talks about the corridor study is “a function of absentee property owners, I’m afraid,” Jones added.
The vision for the overall street is adding sidewalks and multi-use paths, as well as grassy medians in some spots. Much of the work could be done within existing right-of-way, though that can still mean cutting down trees and taking a strip of what many residents now use as their front yards.
Andrew Simpson, who lives with his wife and two young children on Ashford-Dunwoody Road just a short walk to Montgomery Elementary School, urged the council and consultants to listen to the many concerns raised by residents.
“I echo the sentiments of some of the commercial property owners,” he said. “I don’t feel like we were included as much as we should be considering this project is going to come into my front yard a minimum of 25 feet, where my kids run through the sprinkler, where they learned to walk.
“This is very emotional for me and my wife,” Simpson said. “I urge you guys to listen to the people. There is not a lot of positive feedback.”
Nithin Gomez with Gresham, Smith and Partners, stressed to the council and public that the draft plan is simply a “starting point.”
“This is not about specifics … neither is it a final plan,” Gomez said. When and if the city decides to implement any of the more than a dozen recommendations proposed, each will have to go through a design and public vetting process, he said.
A major reason the city is paying for the study is so it can be eligible for state and federal money to be used to pay for improvements along the road. The plan also incorporates the city’s Bicycle, Pedestrian and Trail Plan approves last year, Gomez said.
Gomez said he and others will be accepting feedback on the plan via email at ADCOrridorStudy@BrookhavenGA.gov. The council and the public will have another chance to review the draft plan next month.
To view the entire draft plan, click here.