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CID hits political snag in project to build road

SNELLVILLE - A proposal from a community improvement district has Snellville city officials and constituents sparring.

The U.S. Highway 78 Community Improvement District wants to build a road behind restaurants near Ga. Highway 124 since their access to U.S. 78 will be cut off by a median.

It's even found money for the project - one of many in the quasi-governmental group's five-year plan to improve the entire corridor to Stone Mountain.

But Restaurant Row has hit a snag, with nearby homeowners concerned and elected officials feuding.

Although the CID got Congress to appropriate money for the work, the city must approve all projects within its boundaries and either the city or the state is in charge of hiring a contractor to do the work.

"The CID doesn't answer to the citizens," said Councilman Bruce Garraway, who tried to hold a public hearing on the proposals last month. "I feel the council is the people's voice, so they should hear from the people."

CID officials declined to attend Garraway's public hearing, and the hearing was canceled.

Instead, the board will present the five city-related projects it has on its five-year work program to the City Council during a work session scheduled for Monday.

Mayor Jerry Oberholtzer, who has publicly battled with Garraway in the past, said his actions have put the city in danger of losing up to $5 million in federal money that the CID has to spend on projects along the entire corridor - 25 percent of which is in the city limits.

"They refused to be in the middle of it politically," Oberholtzer said of the CID officials.

According to CID Director Brett Harrell, who is a former mayor of Snellville, the CID has identified 60 potential projects worth $75 million. But with a $9.7 million earmark in the latest federal transportation funding bill, there are more projects than money.

"Our board has determined to proceed first on those projects that return the greatest benefit to our community and are supported by all participants," Harrell wrote in an e-mail. "Quite frankly, the CID's role is to develop potential improvements and identify funding. Ultimately, the GDOT, Gwinnett County, the city of Snellville, or individual property owners are the decision maker in determining if a project moves forward or not.

"We are glad to provide details of our concepts to our partners, GDOT, Gwinnett County, and city of Snellville - which we've done. We will also attend working meetings to discuss and/or clarify various questions for those partners - which we will do on Monday. At that point, the decision is the city's to make with regard to those projects within the city limits. The same holds true for those projects within unincorporated Gwinnett for the (Board of Commissioners)."

While the CID has identified four other projects, including a $4.4 million project to realign McGee Road at U.S. Highway 78, the one causing the stir would build a road from Knollwood Drive to Oak Road, behind a number of restaurants on U.S. 78 and providing a connection north of the intersection with Ga. 124.

With construction set to start in a year or so on a median dividing traffic on U.S. 78, Harrell and others are concerned that the restaurants could see a dip in businesses.

But Dave Foster, the president of the Nob Hill and Millbrook subdivisions that are behind the proposed "Restaurant Row," is concerned that the new road would lead to commercial and apartment zonings beside the houses.

In fact, he said several houses that would border the road have sat empty for years.

"They don't care how the neighborhood feels. Otherwise, they would have an open meeting," he said.

Foster said he didn't believe the issues hinged on the Oberholtzer-Garraway battle but he did say the CID officials "flexed their muscle" to make the hearing disappear.

"We don't think the CID is being forthcoming," he said, adding that the neighborhood leaders are drafting a resolution to send to the City Council explaining why they don't support the proposal.

If that doesn't work, he said the board is brainstorming other ways its members' voices can be heard.

"If they don't want to talk to me, I'll talk to someone who will listen," he said.

IF YOU GO

•What: Snellville City Council work session

•When: 6 p.m. Monday

•Where: Snellville City Hall, 2342 Oak Road