Some Doraville business owners are expressing surprise at the Georgia Department of Transportation’s proposals to demolish their buildings for its I-285 toll lanes project – which also would add even more noodles of lanes to Spaghetti Junction.

“I had no idea this is happening,” said Gaby Maalouf, owner of Underfoot Design and its Flowers Road building. “I did not hear about it. Whatever it is, what can I do? I can’t stop a project like this, right?”

A detail of a Georgia Department of Transportation map showing proposed property acquisitions for the toll lanes project along I-285 and Flowers Road in Doraville. The lanes in green and orange are the new toll lanes and access roads. The red lines show the boundaries of new property acquisitions. Red dots on a building mean it is marked for demolition.

However, Mayor Joseph Geierman – who once signed a petition against the toll lanes — said the conceptual plan revealed by GDOT last month is not as bad he feared and likely will be “refined” with community input.

“I was glad to see that fewer properties than I had expected are scheduled to be condemned,” Geierman said in an email. “My focus continues to be how we can work with GDOT to mitigate any other ways Doraville residents will be impacted (specifically related to noise) as well as making sure that these plans take our future mobility plans for increasing walkability and bikeability in the city into account.”

GDOT plans to add toll lanes – separate from the existing highway lanes and in many places elevated on pillars – along the top end of I-285 and on part of Ga. 400 in projects that might start construction no sooner than 2023. The intent to speed up overall traffic by allowing paying drivers onto the toll lanes. The Ga. 400 toll lanes would carry MARTA rapid transit buses as well, and a similar concept is being studied for the I-285 lanes.

The toll lanes concepts have been highly controversial in Perimeter Center cities, with doubts about their traffic and quality-of-life effects and outrage about property-takings that would include scores of homes and businesses. Approximately 155 properties could lose land or entire buildings in the top-end I-285 conceptual plans. GDOT is accepting public comment through Feb. 25 via its website here.

GDOT long resisted public discussion of property-takings, saying the plans were too conceptual. Part of the controversy was that, despite those GDOT statements, there were repeated revelations of early property purchases based on detailed designs shown to governments, property owners and special interest groups. Last year, the Reporter revealed that GDOT acquired 5 acres of high-value property at Doraville’s massive, high-profile Assembly complex in 2017 for a toll lanes interchange.

A GDOT map showing property acquisitions near Spaghetti Junction at I-285 and I-85, which would have six pairs of new toll lanes threading through its already complex ramps and overpasses.

In Doraville, GDOT’s new conceptual maps show eight buildings marked for demolition on the north side of I-285, and one on the south side. Most are large commercial or office buildings. Not everyone got the kind of advance deal that Assembly’s developers did.

That includes Maalouf, whose Underfoot Design floor covering company has operated for 15 years in a building he owns at 3890 Flowers Road along the Norfolk Southern and MARTA railroad tracks. GDOT’s map shows his building marked for demolition for a widening of Flowers to handle a new toll lanes interchange. His name is on the map as the property owner, but he says he received no notice of the idea, unless he threw something away thinking it was junk mail.

“I am not one of those people who would hold [up] a project like this to difficult. I’ll go buy somewhere else and go on,” said Maalouf. “Of course, I don’t want to move. I’m happy where I am.”

At Tucker Castleberry, a commercial printing and marketing company at 3500 McCall Place, word of the company’s potential displacement was a surprise. Tuck Tucker, the company’s president, said the only notice was someone visiting two or three months ago who “said they were taking measurements for additional lanes on 285.”

Tucker said his company, founded in 1949, was originally based in downtown Atlanta and was displaced to its Doraville site due to the vast property-takings for Centennial Olympic Park in advance of the 1996 Summer Olympic Games. “They took my building and property then,” Tucker said. “Twice in one lifetime would be devastating.”

Finding a new location for a commercial printing company is no small task Tucker said, due to the specialized facility requirements, such as “super-thick cement floors to handle printing presses weighing over 60 tons each. Having to move would devastate my 71-year-old business!”

The Robert Mello Studio, which operates acting classes and a theater, is located in the Perimeter Place office park on Flowers Road. Of the complex’s six large buildings, two are marked for demolition as well as half of a third building. The building at 4048 Flowers housing the studio is among them.

Studio owner Robert Mello said in an email that a move would be tough, as he has a good lease and good support for the arts in Doraville.

“I tend to be a ‘greater good’ kind of guy. If it’s going to help folks, help Atlanta, the move won’t be so challenging,” said Mello. “But I will be devastated if I can’t find a space in Doraville that works for me and my school.

“We’re a performing arts school, we have a theater — Doraville is very supportive of that and working to grow their arts scene,” he said. “I love it up here, love their very active City Council and mayor. They’re great folks. … It could be very difficult to lose all that support.”

At 3545 McCall Place, in the northwest corner of Spaghetti Junction, GDOT’s proposal to demolish the building was news to Peter Kelly of Motor & Gear Engineering, which has operated there for about 20 years.

“Well, I did not know about that,” said Kelly, a former owner of the company who still works there. However, he said, the company is based elsewhere now and uses the McCall building largely as a satellite repair shop. “It wouldn’t affect us at all,” he said.

Another big change in GDOT’s conceptual plan is adding to the complexity of the I-285/I-85 interchange, already known as Spaghetti Junction for its tangle of ramps, overpasses and underpasses. The plan shows an additional six pairs of toll lanes threading through the intersection along I-285 and on the north half, connecting with I-85 toll lanes.

For more of GDOT’s information about the top-end I-285 toll lanes project, see its website here.

Update: This story has been updated with comment from Tucker Castleberry.

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