Originally created 04/29/00

Roadway plan leads to conflict



The developers of a new apartment complex going up on Old Evans Road got a shock this week: Their estimated $11.3 million project is in the path of the River Watch Parkway extension.

The discovery has county and state officials scrambling for alternatives and the developers scratching their heads over what to do now.

"It shocked me when I found out this morning," Bill Johnston, president of Norsouth Corp. and owner of Wedgewood Park Apartments, said Thursday. "All I knew was that eventually the road would be four-laned. It's a brand new complex and cost a lot of money. They could have changed it around or had us change our site plan around."

The plan to extend the thoroughfare, as it was first unveiled to the public Wednesday at a Georgia Department of Transportation meeting, has the four-lane road traveling directly through two multi-unit buildings, near another building and over the main entrance of Wedgewood Park, which is set to open in August. The road also will claim at least 20 residential homes in its way.

After unveiling the plan and talking to county representatives, transportation officials decided to look for alternatives.

"We'll have to see if there are any alternatives to try to miss that complex and also see what the associated effects with that is to any other properties along that area," DOT Design Engineer Joseph Palladi said.

"Until we study it and we look at the options that we have available, it would be premature to say that we could miss it or that we would hit it."

The problem exists today, Mr. Palladi said, simply because of a lack of communication between the state and the county. The state claims it was not fully made aware of the new construction until a revised plan had already been approved just this month.

Mr. Palladi said he has already talked to county officials about "better coordination between the county and us" in alerting his office about new construction so it can be taken into consideration with road plans.

Jim Leiper, county engineer, agreed that there were communication problems but also said the planning of the road extension was occurring at the same time as the planning of the apartments.

"Personally, I don't know if anybody's at fault here," he said.

The Wedgewood Park complex has already begun leasing out one of its 11 buildings, Mr. Johnston said. The land was purchased by Mr. Johnston 1 1/2 years ago with construction work beginning in April 1999. Monthly rent will vary from $375 to $520.

The plan to extend River Watch Parkway is not expected to begin until 2005, with right of way acquisitions beginning in 2002. The road will join Old Petersburg Road and then travel parallel to Old Evans Road until it connects with Washington Road. Bythe time construction begins, the apartments would be fully occupied and some residents in the 200 units would have to be relocated.

"If somebody's in there we may have to pay to relocate them," Mr. Palladi said. "So, it would be in our best interests to move forward and see what we can do to miss it."

But the problem may not be an easy fix.

"We will be looking at the alignment in the area and the grades that we expect the road to be at to see if there is any peripheral needs beyond the proposed right of way," said Mr. Palladi, adding that such a process could take more than a month.

The current plan is the second to be unveiled. The first, according to Mr. Leiper, missed the apartment complex but headed toward a grocery store.

"They decided to go around the Food Lion on Old Petersburg and wound up in the apartments," he said.

But Ronnie Hutto with the county's Roads and Bridges Department said the result of that move was not totally the county's or the state's fault.

"At that time, there was no firm route," he said. "So, there was really nothing else we could do but to tell them that there is a good possibility that this road could come this way.

"We cannot stop construction. With the law, you just can't do that. But what we're doing now is everything that is going to be constructed on Old Petersburg and Old Evans will be submitted to the DOT for their review."

Mr. Johnston, however, said such a process should have already been in place to prevent him from building.

"They did say Old Evans would be four-laned eventually," he said. "But this was a complete shock that they would even come close to us."

According to the minutes from the April 2, 1998, planning commission meeting where the zoning for the land was discussed, planning commission member Steve Brown told developers that "he did not have a concern about the rezoning, but he did have a concern about the direction of River Watch Parkway and how it will affect the property as it is now."

William Rangus, a representative for the site's developers, also told Mr. Brown "they have taken all that into consideration in their plan," according to records.

Still, no matter what side developers or government officials take today, the only dividing line that matters now could be one that's already unstoppable.

"Obviously, this is one that fell through the cracks," Mr. Palladi said.

Reach Preston Sparks at (706) 868-1222,Ext. 110, or preston.sparks@groupz.net.