The city’s plan for double roundabouts in front of the Mount Vernon Towers senior condos is unsafe and will create a “geriatric demolition derby,” the condo’s executive director said.
“If the city elects to press ahead…there’s going to be financial and political consequences,” said Scott Jacobson, an attorney representing the 300 condo residents, at the Oct. 6 Sandy Springs City Council meeting, where several residents also showed up to express opposition to the roundabout plan.
City spokeswoman Sharon Kraun noted the roundabout design has been around for years, but also that it is still in a concept phase. But Towers residents say it recently changed without notice to eat up most of their building’s front yard and driveway, and that the city’s responses are vague.
“There is a difference between concept documents and engineer’s construction design plans, and we have assured the Towers representatives that the project will be built meeting all legal standards,” Kraun said.
The plan targets the unusual X-shaped intersection of Mount Vernon Highway and Johnson Ferry Road. Public meetings on possible changes were held eight years ago and resulted in a recommendation to replace the X with double roundabouts. That concept was included in the city’s 2012 City Center Master Plan. The city began moving toward an actual design in 2010 with a public meeting.
However, a final design was only announced early this year, and included shifting the roundabouts northward. That design would demolish about a third of Mount Vernon Towers’ tree-filled front yard, a memorial garden with benches, and most of its driveways.
“There’s been a lot things done, I don’t want to say behind closed doors, but without public notice,” resident Sue Gilchrist told City Council members on Oct. 6. “This thing has morphed beyond what the public originally thought it was going to be.”
Residents hired Jacobson, who in turn hired an independent traffic engineer, A&R Engineers
of Marietta. Its 37-page report is critical of the roundabouts, said Chris Peterson, the resident-hired executive director of Mount Vernon Towers.
“Tons of safety issues were brought up,” said Peterson, adding that the average age of Towers residents is 83 1/2. Concerns include difficult pedestrian crossings, poor sightlines and a required traffic merge for drivers using the Towers driveway. During a recent walk around the Towers’ front yard, Peterson pointed to the current, easy-to-use pedestrian crossings and the sign and other infrastructure that would be removed.
Kraun said that city staff members have met at least three times this year with Mount Vernon Towers representatives. Residents acknowledge they have been given alternative plans that relocate the Towers driveway out of one roundabout. But they say that adds to safety problems by making the driveway steeper for pedestrians.
“We’re also trying to figure out why they’re doing it at all,” said Peterson. In meetings, he said, city staff say the roundabouts won’t improve traffic at rush hour, which is the only time the intersection is choked, he said.
Towers residents and representatives also question the northward shift of the design. Kraun said the change was required because of a “historic district” in the Glenwood Forest neighborhood to the south, but Jacobson said that’s a “red herring” and that “there is no historic district.” The neighborhood is not on the National Register of Historic Places. A 2011 letter from the state Historic Preservation Division does refer to a historic district, but says the project would have “no adverse effect” on the area.
Residents attended the Oct. 6 council meeting because the agenda included approval of beginning negotiations with property owners over project right of way. The council approved the process, but Councilmen John Paulson and Gabriel Sterling urged staff members to work with Towers residents. The plan should “minimize the impact with Mount Vernon Towers if at all possible,” Sterling said.
“We are doing our best to listen to and communicate with all in that corridor, residents as well as businesses,” Kraun said in an email.
Jacobson said that if the city takes the property by eminent domain, Towers residents will seek a high price and will not rule out suing.
“Nothing is on the table or off the table,” Jacobson said of a possible lawsuit. “It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see this current plan is going to damage the property.”