Twenty-one years ago, when Helen Young and her husband were looking for a place to retire from their lives in New Jersey, they settled on the Snapfinger Lake subdivision in south DeKalb.
“We looked at many, many homes here in Georgia,” Young said. After waiting to retire, the couple finally moved into their home five years ago. “We loved what we saw. But not today.”
Young and many of the residents of Snapfinger Lake are upset with how the widening of Snapfinger Road is affecting the only entrance to their subdivision. Because of state concessions to the owner of a welding business at the front of their neighborhood, 18-wheelers and large work vans will be turning onto Snapfinger Lake Drive.
A driveway to Wilson Welding, a steel fabrication company, is being constructed off of the subdivision’s road.
“We have a problem,” said resident Herbert Taylor, of the neighborhood’s home-owners association. “That road is not supposed to be there.”
Larry Anderson, a 22-year resident of Snapfinger Lake, said the road must be changed because it will cause severe property value destabilization.
“Our community is practically about to be devastated,” Anderson said. “This road is not right for our community. It’s not right for our kids.”
Jack Wilson II, owner of Wilson Welding, said he is not responsible for the driveway. His company needs the driveway to make left turns onto Snapfinger Road now that a median is under construction. The company has two other driveways: one for entering and one for turning right onto Snapfinger Road.
“Nobody begged the state of Georgia like I did to give me access through the median,” Wilson said.
Wilson said the subdivision only exists because of the graciousness of his grandfather who gave the developer some lots on the backside of the Wilson land to create a buffer zone between the neighborhood and the business.
“We’ve tried our best to be halfway decent neighbors,” Wilson said. The company has been in business since 1954. “We’re just doing the same thing we’ve ever done. I’m just trying to make a living.”
The county started the design process 10 years ago, which was taken over by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), according to Ted Rhinehart, deputy chief operating officer for the county’s infrastructure group. GDOT funded and managed the right-of-way acquisition process.
The state then informed the county of a plan change to accommodate the right-of-way acquisition.
Whenever a road-widening impacts a particular property owner, the state has the responsibility of attempting to compensate the owner for that impact. That’s when the idea for the road off Snapfinger Lake Drive would have been born, Rhinehart said.
“Going forward, we’ve got the engineers working with the state to see what landscaping and buffering we can do in there to ensure that it is very clear to the people entering there that it is a residential neighborhood,” Rhinehart said.
“The current construction, which obviously is a mess … is not how things look at the end of it,” Rhinehart said. The county wants to ensure the neighborhood’s entrance is “restored to something that is Safe and functional and attractive.”
Residents are complaining that county officials have not been very helpful in protecting the interests of the neighborhood.
“I think this is a disgrace,” said Snapfinger Lake resident P. J. Lemuel. “It is a travesty of justice to give a private business owner who pays less than $10,000 a year in taxes precedence over 105 residents who conservatively pay $150,000 annually in taxes.
“We have been calling and begging and pleading and no one, no one has come to our aid,” Lemeul said.
Residents say that includes Commissioner Larry Johnson, whose district includes Snapfinger Lake.
“The citizens do have legitimate concerns,” Johnson said. “If I could, I would have fixed it a long time ago.”
Plans for the Snapfinger Road widening project were made two years before Johnson was elected to the Board of Commissioners. And since Snapfinger Road is a state road, Johnson said he does not have any input into the project.
“We can’t control state roads,” Johnson said. “I didn’t make a decision to widen the road. I didn’t get a chance to vote on that.”
The project is expected to be completed November 2012. In the meantime, residents will have to deal with the construction.
“It’s a hot mess,” said resident Ruby Johnson.
As for Wilson, he said he has another solution to the access problem: “If someone wants to buy me out, I’ll move.”