The lights are finally turning green on the West Bay Street widening project after years of planning and meetings. Many contentious and emotional meetings.
Actual construction on West Bay Street won't start for another two and a half years. Right now, the state and Chatham County are in the middle of acquiring properties, giving values and prices to businesses for how much they will pay them to move.
The Georgia Dept. of Transportation told that WTOC the project, which has gone through some overhauls and design changes, had its right-of-way plan authorized and approved in July.
Chatham County engineers are now working on the purchasing part of all right-of-way properties and a revised project schedule has been submitted which puts a construction start date at fiscal year 2016.
However, some of the businesses who are impacted by the project are not pleased. While many expected this move all along, others were still not ready for the reality of the project actually coming to fruition. Others were surprised when appraisers showed up at their doors, thinking they had been saved only to find out they were still on the list to be bought out and moved.
Who will stay? Who will go? Chatham County's right-of-way consultants are working right now on buying up properties to clear the way for the long-awaited and at times controversial project.
Some businesses were bound to be relocated. Appraisers were at these businesses the last few weeks working on buyouts and acquisitions, as the state and county look to get this project moving.
The Rib Hut on West Bay Street said they met with appraisers and were not too happy about it. They will be moving at some point. So will their neighbors Shop n Go. The owner says once the state pays him, he will move his store, which likely go across the street to a long vacant building.
The big battle all along was Marvel Kleaners, who did succeed in getting a historic designation. The project was moved around their building and the Marvel will stay put, as will a few other businesses. However, Mill Direct Carpets owner Donald Dodsworth said, after 20 years on West Bay, his business will be forced to move.
"I would like to fight it some more, but I guess, we will have to leave after 30 years in the business," he said. "This has been my life support. We would like to stay and do business in this location like we have for the last 20 years. Obviously, we will have to find a location if they force us out."
Mill Direct Carpets will have to leave and has hired a lawyer to deal with the county's consultants. Dodsworth told WTOC they expect to be low-balled on property values, so relocating won't be cheap, they say. He's hoping negotiations go better than he anticipates.
The county engineers office tells me if businesses don't accept offers, other avenues will be explored, including the possibility of condemning buildings.
Meanwhile, even though road construction won't begin until 2016, expect to see demolition crews much sooner, tearing down buildings, clearing right-of-ways.