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Some land disputes go to court for road widening project

LAWRENCEVILLE -- For the most part, Gwinnett officials' attempts to buy land for a long-awaited widening project have gone smoothly.

But this week, commissioners turned to the courts to settle disputes over nine pieces of property in the path of the Ga. Highway 20 project that will eventually create a four-lane road crossing from Gwinnett's border with Walton County to its border with Forsyth.

Between two projects to widen the road through Sugar Hill and another to build a new bridge over the Chattahoochee River into Forsyth, county officials had to settle with owners of about 200 parcels, said Deputy Transportation Director Alan Chapman. More than 100 have been closed and another 30 or so are under options.

But officials were not able to reach agreements on the nine properties, which only account for just over 3 acres of required right of away and easements. Some of the disputes were over the price, while others had estate or deed issues, Acting County Attorney Van Stephens said. Some involved business ventures that believe the work could harm their companies. While two of the disputed matters involve land valued at less than $5,000 each, the total value for the nine cases represents more than $1 million, according to appraisals.

Commissioners approved beginning condemnation proceedings to settle the matters in court.

Acting Gwinnett Transportation Director Kim Conroy said the county hopes to wrap up its work aquiring the right of way by the end of the summer or early in the fall. The county agreed to perform the job, paying for the land with state funds, so the Georgia Department of Transportation can move forward on the widening project promised a decade ago.

But while officials are working toward a construction start date of early next year, the funding for the work will be determined by a regional sales tax vote, which will be on ballots throughout metro Atlanta July 31.