Solution to dilapidated Sprayberry Crossing shopping center may be closer

Potholes at Sprayberry Crossing -- photo by Rebecca Gaunt

It is wise to grip the steering wheel tightly on the crumbling parking lot when driving through the old Sprayberry Crossing Shopping Center. Though partially hidden behind several separate businesses, the complex, built in 1978, is considered an eyesore along Sandy Plains Road. Many residents are fed up, and Joe Glancy decided to do something about it. He purchased a home in a nearby subdivision because he loves the area, but the shopping center was his one misgiving.

“After 10 years of hearing others’ frustrations with it, and not understanding why it continued to languish in its current condition, I decided there needed to be a forum where our community could find out what was going on and organize in some way to bring about change,” Glancy said.

He created the Sprayberry Crossing Action Facebook group in January 2017. By July, membership had grown to more than 3,000 people.

Members of the group say the center has become a place for the homeless to sleep, teenagers to congregate unsupervised, and that it attracts crime to the area. It is also a popular cut-through to avoid traffic on the main roads. Cars weave around the lot and around each other to avoid the large potholes.

Cobb County has designated it an Economic Development Site, which means there are incentives for developing the area.

Sprayberry Crossing — photo by Rebecca Gaunt

The property consists of 16 acres owned by Sprayberry Crossing Partnership and Sprayberry Crossing, LLC. As Glancy began to reach out to all involved parties, he discovered that the Sprayberry Crossing owners actually wanted to sell the property. So what was the problem?

Mayes Family Cemetery — photo by Rebecca Gaunt

As it turned it out, the issue dated back to the late 1800s when the Mayes Family Cemetery was established. It is within the boundaries of Sprayberry Crossing, but it is still in control of family members who handle the maintenance. In 2011, the Sprayberry Crossing owners took legal action to try and relocate the cemetery prior to selling. In order to do so, the owners had to find and reach an agreement with the living family members, who were scattered all over the country. Some of them were not happy with how the shopping center’s owners handled the situation.

As the cemetery issue moved through the court system, the poor condition of the shopping center continued to be a source of frustration for many residents as they perceived no apparent upkeep of the buildings.

“My original goal was to find out why the shopping center had been neglected for so long. There were so many rumors about why; we just needed some answers. I had always heard it was because it was an EPA-designated Superfund site – however, it turned out that was no longer an issue in terms of development,” Glancy said. “Once we found out about the cemetery issue and the five years it had been in process with the Cobb Superior Court, it seemed like a sensible idea to have someone help drive this to a conclusion. So when the fact-finding part of this came to a conclusion, the advocacy part took over. There are several parties involved in this process – the property owners, the families connected to the cemetery, the county, the surrounding community, and the few tenants that currently lease space there. I’ve spoken to representatives from all of those parties, and I just wanted to make sure everyone understood what factors were involved and to try to serve as a taskmaster for moving the process forward – fairly, without vilifying anyone involved.”

Several residents have expressed frustration in the Facebook group that negotiations over the cemetery have prevented forward movement on the property, and some are angry that the Sprayberry Crossing owners want the cemetery moved at all. They would prefer to see it incorporated into any future development as a historic site. The attorney for the property owners informed Glancy that they reached an agreement with the final holdout for the cemetery in June 2017. Members of the group are planning a tribute to honor the people who have been laid to rest there and will be moved to a new location at the Sandy Plains Baptist Church upon approval by the Cobb County Cemetery Preservation Commission.

Mary LeBrun recalls how she felt the first time she saw the shopping center six years ago. Her family was in the process of buying a home in Princeton Pointe, and on the day of the closing, they took a different route to the house to do the final walk-through. “When I realized we had purchased a home near a stretch of busy road, ramshackle with run down businesses and vacant storefronts I felt sick,” she said.

Sprayberry Crossing — photo by Rebecca Gaunt

The action group, under Glancy’s lead, also filed a nuisance abatement complaint against the former Bruno’s building. With the help of Commissioner JoAnn Birrell, the complaint was expanded to include the vacant former bowling alley, and a code inspection was performed. The group also notified the county of additional violations around the property. The owners were given 45 days to correct the issues. Glancy says some repairs were done, but some remained incomplete as of the June 30 deadline. According to Commissioner Birrell, another inspection was performed July 12 in her presence.

Deborah Thompson bought her home in Village North in 1978. Back then, the shopping center was actually a draw. She shopped for groceries at Ogletree’s, dined at the Chinese restaurant, and bowled at Village Lanes.

“Once Bruno’s closed in the 90s, and then the bowling center closed in 2008,
rumors were that Lowes wanted to build in there,” Thompson said. “When that didn’t work out, it appears the owners of the shopping center gave up any effort to keep the maintenance on the shopping center.”

Janice Lemaire and her husband have run their business, Music Rx, in Sprayberry Crossing for 14 years. They offer music lessons and instrument repairs. Lemaire says they have not had problems dealing with the owners to get things done but would love to see improvements on the property. They aren’t necessarily in favor of redevelopment.

“We are older adults who would not sign a long-term lease elsewhere, so we would probably close,” Lemaire said. “From our perspective, we would like to see improvement, but no redevelopment if it would force us out.”

The Cobb County Board of Commissioners is set to vote on a blight tax for commercial properties on July 25. If it passes, properties like this one could be subject to a penalty of a 700 percent property tax increase for the year.

Three listed owners of the Sprayberry Crossing property were contacted for this story, but one had not responded as of publication and two had no comment.