A photo taken of map displayed at the private Feb. 7 meeting and provided to the Reporter shows the current design of the toll lanes running over some of the 19 homes that are expected to be taken for the project. Ga. 400 is at the bottom of the map. (Special)

Twenty houses on a Sandy Springs street would be demolished for the Ga. 400 toll lanes project, residents say they were told by the Georgia Department of Transportation in a private meeting.

Four of those homeowners, most of whom did not want to be named, spoke with the Reporter and said they felt the process has been too secretive and that they should have been contacted earlier. They said 19 of the targeted houses are on Northgreen Drive and one is Spalding Drive.

“We feel extremely anxious that we’re certainly going to get the short end of the stick,” said Torry Alexander, one homeowner who was told her house would be taken. “[GDOT] is extremely powerful and has way more resources.”

GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale confirmed the meeting, but did not comment on the number of houses that may be taken.

“Outreach was made to these property owners to allow them the opportunity to view a display showing the potential impacts to their properties, which was specific to parcels that back up to [Ga. 400] at this location,” Dale said in an email.

The $1.2 billion toll lanes project would add two new elevated, barrier-separated “express lanes” or “managed lanes” in both directions on Ga. 400, alongside regular travel lanes. Construction is expected to begin in 2021. A similar, connected project is planned for I-285.

The toll lanes have become controversial for the limited information being released and the property impacts, some of which are privately being discussed with homeowners. Residents on Sandy Springs’ Montrose Lane, just off Long Island Drive at I-285, have previously revealed five of that cul-de-sac’s 12 homes are expected to lose some of their property, but not the homes themselves. Other property impacts under GDOT consideration are demolishing eight homes on Sandy Springs’ Crestline Parkway for an interchange and tearing down part of a Dunwoody townhouse while leaving the rest standing.

GDOT has shown maps of property impacts to property owners privately, but has said in response to open records requests to the Reporter that the documents do not exist or are exempt from disclosure.

A Google map image shows Northgreen Drive running alongside Ga. 400 south of Spalding Drive. (Google Maps)

The property acquisition on Northgreen Drive, which runs south off Spalding Drive along the west side of Ga. 400, was the subject of the Feb. 7 private meeting, which was held by GDOT and its design contractor at the North Fulton Government Service Center.

Two residents who attended the meeting said they felt blindsided when they learned their homes would be taken for the project.

At the meeting, residents say, a map was displayed and they were told any property with a red dot over it would be taken. The map, a partial photograph of which was provided to the Reporter by a resident, shows a possible alignment of the new toll lanes, with one lane running directly over some of the houses. Nothing on the map directly explains the meaning of the red dots.

The homeowners were told by GDOT the next step would be an appraiser evaluating their property so an offer can be presented. But they have received no other official communication yet and residents are mostly in a holding pattern, Alexander said.

“There are…so many holes in [the questions of] what’s the next step and what’s going to happen,” said Alexander.

Another resident said they were told by GDOT the houses would need to be vacant within six months to a year if they need to be demolished.

One homeowner said he was confused by the process the design was presented as conceptual, but the property taking seemed to be a “done deal,” with no way to voice concerns. The project is being done in a design-build process, which means property acquisition and construction begins before the entire design is finished.

“The process is just so baffling to us with the way we found out,” another resident said.

Residents were notified of the meeting by a letter from GDOT saying their houses could be impacted by the project. Some residents said they expected that to be taking relatively small pieces of their back yards for a noise barrier they had heard about, said a resident, who asked to remain anonymous.

“It was not a good feeling. We went in expecting one thing and left feeling like we’d been punched in the stomach,” one resident said. “When we saw the letter, it looked like they would take part of our yard. It was really vague.”

In addition to being told they’re losing their homes, residents expressed disappointment and frustration about what they feel has been a far too secretive process.

“The outcome may be what’s necessary, but the process has been so cloaked and really cruel,” said a resident of Northgreen whose house would not be demolished under the current plan.

GDOT has held some public meetings about the toll lanes plan, mostly at the request of such organizations as Fulton County School System and Dunwoody Homeowners Associations, but has not released property-taking details. Full public open houses where GDOT has said right of way impacts will be presented will begin Feb. 28 in Alpharetta. The local Sandy Springs will come March 12 with a 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. meeting in City Springs, 1 Galambos Way.

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