Condemnations are a “commonplace” way to facilitate government projects around the county, said Commissioner Lisa Cupid, who represents the south Cobb district surrounding the disputed property.
The quarter-mile stretch of new roadway will include a town square in front of Mableton Elementary School, said Jim Wilgus, deputy director of Cobb’s transportation department.
But the family who owns one of the condemned properties said they won’t give up their home without a fight.
Denise Barton, a lifelong Cobb resident, said she has been married to her husband Clarence Keith Barton for 44 years.
Her husband and his brother, David Barton, have owned the half-acre tract of land off Church Street since their parents died.
“It was their inheritance,” Denise Barton said. “I consider it mine, too.”
She said the land has been in the Barton family for about 70 years, with a Barton living in the family home occupying the center of the property since her husband’s father had it built in 1946.
David Barton, a “confirmed bachelor” who is now retired, has lived in the house since he was three years old, she said. The trio of Bartons who now reside on the property said they had “absolutely no intention” of moving before the county approached them about a year and a half ago with news it plans to bulldoze their home to make way for a new road.
Wilgus said the county is in talks with owners of the properties to secure the necessary land titles ahead of construction.
Condemnation, which requires the county to issue a Declaration of Taking to begin court proceedings, is “always a last resort,” said Wilgus.
“Most of the time, even after we’ve condemned a property, we end up settling for some amount,” he said.
Wilgus said condemnation is sometimes used to keep projects on schedule. He said his department hopes to open up the bidding process for contractors to assess the project plans and provide prices by September, and building is expected to follow in late October.
“We are continuing to negotiate with the property owners,” he added.
Construction would last until fall of 2015, with work on some of the project pieces slated for next summer so as not to interfere with Mableton Elementary School’s operations, Wilgus said.
The planned square’s proximity to the school required DOT officials to coordinate with the Cobb County School District, he said.
Jay Dillon, spokesman for Cobb schools, said the Board of Education voted to give DOT right-of-way along the Mableton Elementary property, as well as to grant a trio of temporary and permanent easements, at its April 24 meeting.
“I believe it will help rejuvenate Mableton,” Cupid said of the project. “The unfortunate thing about development and redevelopment is that it impacts existing properties, and while they may come with a lot of support, they sometimes may come with opposition.”
While Cupid said she has pulled condemnations from her agenda in the past, she said the latest condemnation didn’t give her “any particular pause” when she and the other four commissioners unanimously approved the decision.
Robin Meyer, chairwoman of the Mableton Improvement Coalition, said the project follows a plan for developing downtown Mableton, called the Mableton Form-Based Code.
She said the coalition is “very supportive of the overall plans for historic downtown Mableton” but is not involved in this particular project.
“It’s a conceptual plan,” Meyer said of the Mableton Form-Based Code, “but the conceptual plan was taken one step further by the county DOT in developing the Walker Drive project.”
She said the code, which her coalition helped develop, lays out a vision for the look and feel of the area.
Dana Johnson, deputy director of the county’s Community Development Agency, said a yearlong process of planning and “very intense” community involvement yielded the Mableton Form-Based Code in 2011.
Johnson said funding for the road improvement and square was included in an item on that year’s SPLOST list.
Wilgus did not comment on the people who own the land the county moved to condemn last week.
“We try not to ever release specifics, because negotiations are ongoing, and we don’t want to negotiate in the newspaper,” he said. “It’s not fair to them.”
Denise, Keith and David Barton all graduated from South Cobb High School and have remained in the area their entire lives, Denise Barton said.
She and Keith Barton raised three children who progressed through Cobb schools, and the couple now has guardianship of a granddaughter who attends Mableton Elementary right across the street.
Denise Barton said her family has already had to endure the irritation construction of the school caused.
“We had to put up with that and all of that junk flying in our face,” she said.
The front panels of the Bartons’ white house darkened with the dirt kicked up by building crews, Denise Barton said, to the point she asked the contractors to wash her house after they had torn down the old school.
David Barton, 71, has never known another home.
“We did not have any plans to move, but we have not stirred up anything,” Denise Barton said.
“This was our plan for life, and we were happy with that.”
Wayman Jordan and his wife, Dianne, own five acres of property that partially surrounds the Bartons’ plot.
Dianne Barton said the county sent an appraisal company to assess her family’s land around February of this year. The county carved out pieces of the property that make up nearly two acres of the Jordans’ land in the offer it extended in April. Wayman Jordan, who has lived in Mableton since 1957, said he is reluctant to let the land go for the low price the county offered because of its size.
“The problem we have is, when we sell the land, it just breaks up a large piece of property that is rare in this area of Cobb County,” Wayman Jordan said.
Wayman Jordan said he spent 35 years working for the county fire department before his retirement, nearly 25 of which he spent as a battalion chief.
Virginia Beavers has rented a small house on one part of the Jordans’ property the county is seeking for 18 years.
She said a woman from the county came to show her pictures of places she could move to with comparable rents before informing her she had to be out of the house by the first of September.
Beavers, who has lived in Mableton since 1956, said her landlord, Wayman Jordan, told her “not to worry about it.”
“My mother lives right around the corner, and she’s 94,” Beavers said of why she loves living off Church Street.
“It helps me to be able to take care of her.”
While the Jordans’ property was not among the parcels condemned last week, Dianne Jordan said she and her husband have yet to hear back from the county since countering its offer in early May.
“I think if (county manager David) Hankerson and some of those commissioners came down here, there’d be some minds changing,” Wayman Jordan said of the way the county has treated him and the other property owners.
Both the Jordans and the Bartons said their neighbors, an elderly couple, were treated unfairly by the county in the deal that put one of the properties standing in the way of the proposed road into the county’s hands.
Denise Barton said the county approached the family two to three months ago and made an offer on the property.
“There’s no way we could replace what we have right here with what they offered,” Denise Barton said. “It was well below what we have invested in it.”
Among other renovations, Denise Barton said she and her husband expanded the house when they moved in with her brother-in-law in 2005.
“Their offer was unacceptable to us. We made a counteroffer and we haven’t heard anything.”
Denise Barton said she was told by county officials they want to put a “green space” on her family’s land.
Ahead of last week’s vote, she said the county had not informed her it planned to condemn her property.
“You don’t do people like that,” Denise Barton said. “If that’s what they want to do, they just better dig deep in their pocket is all I got to say.”
Cupid said she hopes the county pursues an agreement that benefits both sides.
“My desire is that we do the best job we can to negotiate with those who have property subject to condemnation to make sure they receive a fair return,” she said.
“The hope is that the process will be fair enough to provide the most significant benefits to the community and not be unfair to those who have less benefit.”
Denise Barton said she has been angered by the way the county has approached her family.
She said she doesn’t plan to accept the offer currently on the table.
“Yes ma’am, we are going to fight this. Because we cannot afford to be kicked out of a county that we have supported forever, and then let them do this to us,” she said. “No ma’am. It’s worth fighting for, I do believe.
We are going to go to town.”