Hoping for a HomePosted: April 22, 2010
Jackie Roberts wipes the sweat from her brow, shifting the heavy stones she holds in her arms. Her driveway is coming along nicely; the volunteers from across Athens have been working for hours now in the sweltering heat. It is hard work to build a home, but for Roberts, just getting the permission to was half the battle.
Roberts, a University of Georgia employee, is the new owner of 155 Valleybrook Drive, a house that had been vehemently opposed by several members of her new Forest Heights neighborhood. Roberts is one of the many new homeowners in Athens that received help from the Athens Land Trust in order to make her dreams come true. The Athens Land Trust works to protect properties under conservation easements and offers affordable housing for Athens residents with low income.
Roberts’ home is a unique property for the land trust. Generally, the trust takes older properties and renovates them. Everything from siding and landscaping to plumbing and electrical get updated to code and, more recently, become more environmentally friendly. Roberts’ house was built from the ground up on a viciously sloping lot, creating many problems for the designers. The slope of the lot forced designers to work several unconventional floor plans into the design. The result was a very modern house that differed from the half-century old homes directly across the street.
All of the difficulties with the design were nothing compared to the opinions of the neighborhood. When the idea was proposed to build a slightly modern looking, environmentally friendly house in the older area, neighbors were concerned about how well it would fit in the area. The large amount of construction and constant flow of volunteers irked neighbors.
“It’s not like I couldn’t see what they were getting at,” said Roberts. “I’d be a be worried too if a really modern looking house showed up in my neighborhood with a lot of people making a lot of noise.”
The aesthetic value of the house, however, was the least of the neighborhood’s worries. Since Roberts bought the house through the land trust program, she pays far less than what she would normally have to for a house. Some neighbors worried that the house might drive down property values in the area.
“Some very mean-spirited things were said,” said Roberts. “They acted like we were just going to drain them of money and put up an eye-sore of a house just to spite them.”
Neighbor Abbey Griffin recalls several meetings being held about the issues surrounding Roberts’ house.
“There were times when it got ugly,” said Griffin. “People were talking about legal action against the trust and Jackie. There was even some stuff on the Internet about it.”
Requests to interview the organizers of these meetings were declined.
Members of the Athens Land Trust began contacting neighbors in attempts to outline the plan for the property and alleviate any fears that neighbors might have. According to volunteers, the neighborhood began to accept the property, especially after meeting with Roberts and her family. On one volunteer day, the family and land trust volunteers were landscaping when members of the neighborhood began to drop by and offer assistance.
“That’s when I knew everything was going to be alright,”said Roberts. “Some neighbors are still a little iffy about the house itself but they understand me and my kids. They know we wanted a home. That’s all I ask.”
The neighbors began expressing interest in the “green” aspects of the home, especially the rain chain. Instead of traditional gutters, a chain hangs from the edge of the house, collecting rain water and filtering it into a basin. The house itself was built for maximum positive environmental impact. The neighbors have latched on to some ideas from Roberts home and used them in their own lives.
“We made recycling bins like Jackie has,” said Griffin. “And we’re looking at her appliances and trying to get ideas for how our house could be more green.”
Roberts and her family will officially move into their new home on April 16, 2010 after a ribbon cutting ceremony held by the Athens Land Trust. The designers of the house, volunteers, Mayor Davison, and ACC commissioners are expected to be in attendance.
“I’m just so glad to see it finished,” said Roberts. “I can finally go home.”