Being in the crosshairs of a major Hall County road project has put one couple’s life in an eight-year limbo.
Paul and Veronica de Kozan have put off house repairs and lawn work, having known since 2011 that a map shows their Sherwood Mill Drive house being taken as part of the Spout Springs Road widening in South Hall.
“I used to have the prettiest yard in the neighborhood,” Paul said during a recent visit to his property. “Now I’ve got the lousiest yard in the neighborhood.”
The couple feel their hands are tied in another major way.
“One thing we’ve been prevented from doing is putting our house on the market,” Paul said. “As responsible citizens, we cannot put our house on the market and not tell somebody what’s down the road.”
They’ve got the sympathy of state Sen. Butch Miller, R-Gainesville, who said he has asked his office to look into the issue at the state level. Spout Springs Road is not unique — many road projects drag on for years, often hampered by a lack of funding.
“Very few things should violate the rights of a property owner,” he said. “Traditionally, it’s a requirement that just compensation from the government would be offered to the (property) owner. Long-range, protracted or continued seizures are just the opposite of that compensation. In my view … the delay is unconstitutional.”
Fueling the de Kozans’ frustration is seeing how the project has evolved.
In 2011, Hall County had planned to widen Spout Springs Road from Interstate 985 to Thompson Mill Road at the Hall-Gwinnett line.
The project was broken into two phases in 2016 “in an effort to expedite the project’s overall timeline,” said Katie Crumley, Hall County spokeswoman.
The first phase runs from I-985 to Union Circle and the second phase — where the de Kozans’ property is located — will run between Union Circle and Thompson Mill.
Construction of phase one could start this fall.
The project, which required right of way acquisition on 161 parcels, calls for widening Spout Springs from two to four lanes with a 20-foot raised median and sidewalks. Construction costs have been estimated at $36 million.
Meanwhile, the second phase, affecting 91 parcels, doesn’t have set funding and has had a changing timeline.
Until recently, Hall County’s website said second-phase right of way acquisition was scheduled to start by summer 2019.
The page has been updated and now says right of way acquisition could start in fall 2020, with construction starting in summer or fall of 2022.
Still, the project hinges on the outcome of a Nov. 5 referendum on the next special purpose local option sales tax, SPLOST VIII, which calls for $73.6 million for road improvements, including $26.8 million for right of way acquisition and other preliminary work in Spout Springs’ second phase, Crumley said.
Funding for construction of the second phase has yet to be identified, county officials said.
And money typically is the central issue in getting a project done — let alone scheduled.
“Obviously, acquisition and construction cannot occur without funding, and due to the high cost of these types of projects, it can take time for funding to be identified,” Crumley said.
Hearing that right of way acquisition will start in fall 2020 is cold comfort for the de Kozans, who said they have yet to receive official notification that their property has even been targeted as right of way.
She and her husband said they’ve heard such projections before just to see more delays.
“The story changes all the time,” she said. “We were told we were going to be bought out in 2017, 2019, early 2020 and now fall 2020. Every time you turn around, (the date) changes.”
Hall County officials suggest that people shouldn’t put off needed repairs just because they’re not sure when right of way negotiations may happen.
“If your roof is leaking, by all means, please get it fixed,” Crumley said.
“Health and safety gets taken into account when they’re performing appraisals,” County Engineer Kevin McIntuff said.
Just make sure to hold onto receipts, as they could be used as part of the negotiations, he added.