How the Land Trust Began
by Norman Glassman (who was there)
In the beginning was Kudzu. And the Kudzu covered all the Earth that is now the Land Trust and the Valley and all the backyards except for one. And the Kudzu covered and smothered all plants, there were no bushes or small trees, just humps covered by Kudzu. And the Giant Trees were not immune from the threat, they too were under attack as multiple Kudzu vines traveled up the Giants and started covering their tops as the prelude to the Smothering. To Kudzu, all the world is a trellis, and nothing is too tall to climb.
The story was that in the 1940s, Kudzu was considered to be a good shade vine for covering outdoor sitting areas. One of the mostly elderly neighbors planted some for shade in the backyard. The Kudzu did provide shade, and then kept going and going beyond the capacity of the homeowners to contain, especially during the long hot Summers when humans wilted and Kudzu grew even faster. Several decades later, the Kudzu had overwhelmed the efforts of the Elderly, who had not the energy to confront and subdue the plant that ended up taking over all of the Land. What was needed was Young People.
And starting in 1976 the Young People, a.k.a. Urban Pioneers, started coming to the Land, saw that it would be Good, and were confident that the Kudzu would succumb to their youthful energy and confidence. So the old homes were bought up as the Elders went to Heaven where there is no Kudzu. What lured the Pioneers was the combination of low prices and the obvious possibilities of a large Greenspace within an Intown neighborhood. Even though many of the houses were vacant, and several houses had folks squatting in them, the potential was obvious to those who had eyes to see it.
One problem for the Pioneers was that the Banks had redlined the whole area and were very reluctant to take on mortgages. Enter the BOND Credit Union, which had been set up in Little Five Points to fill the lending gap in Inman Park and surrounding neighborhoods. BOND was willing to make mortgage loans in the neighborhoods surrounding L5P. They understood Intown needs and houses that were “fix-it-uppers,” and they were not Afraid.
Each reclaimed house had its own story, but the main story was Affordable and Intown. And so as the Young People started reclaiming the houses they also reclaimed the Land, yard by yard, which took much longer and much more effort than was expected. But they were young and had energy and determination. The largest Kudzu vine of all, in a far corner of the Land, was 5 inches in diameter, growing up one of the Giant Trees. A sharpened machete, two energetic swings from a healthy right arm, and the Vine was cut. The Kudzu now knew that the Reclamation had begun. Life was coming back to the Land.
Now it is the year 1980. MARTA was finishing work on the East rail line, and a few of the Pioneers foresaw that MARTA would eventually sell off the 1.3 acres it owned at the southern end of the Land, on the High Ground. They foresaw that once the Kudzu was removed, the Land could become a neighborhood asset if left as Greenspace and not developed for new housing. And they liked the idea of a Greenspace on the High Ground, rather than a row of townhouses looking down on them. They foresaw many wonderful and varied Community activities and lots of beautiful and useful Plants that were not Kudzu. And so the Effort was begun, flyers were printed (no internet), meetings were held.
The Atomic Cafe, located where the Flying Biscuit is now, hosted several meetings. A few meetings were held on top of what is now the Land Trust Peak, and then the meetings moved inside to the homes of several of the Pioneers. That is when the detailed, adult work began. Pledges of money were made, and BOND Credit Union provided a Letter of Intent to Loan, to show MARTA that we were serious and capable enough to buy the Land. MARTA indicated that it would do the preparation work to put the Land up for sealed bid Auction, as required by Law.
MARTA was very cautious, because they wanted to be sure they were dealing with a responsible and serious group. The Pioneers had no history of working together, and MARTA was understandably nervous. And of course the Nay Sayers had an easy time of it, pointing out that there were many Pitfalls and Problems, etc. But the Pioneers were Yes Sayers, so they went ahead anyway, and formed the Lake Claire Community Land Trust as a non-profit corporation. That helped to convince MARTA, as did the BOND Letter of Intent.
Now it is 1986. MARTA finally scheduled and advertised the sealed bid Auction. They decided to offer the 1.3 acres of Land as three separate parcels, the biggest one from the Arizona Ave. cul-de-sac all the way to what is now the middle of the Fire Circle. The middle parcel included the Peak all the way back to the Sauna area. The third parcel extended from the western side of the Peak all the way to Nelms Ave.
Three of the Trustees (a.k.a. Board Members) of the Land Trust went to MARTA headquarters on the Appointed Day. They carried with them the agreed-upon bids to submit at the Auction. When they arrived at MARTA they checked the public list of those who would be bidding on the Land. They hoped to find that no one else was interested, but found that a developer would also be bidding.
So the Trustees went to a side room to decide whether to increase the bids, or shift the bids in favor of getting the most important parcel, from Arizona to the Fire Circle. The time got closer to the 11:00 am deadline. The talking continued until one of the three said: “It is almost Time.” And indeed it was three minutes before 11:00 am. Yikes! The bids were finalized. Then a quick walk with the bids in a sealed envelope to hand in to the Timekeeper, who put one end of the envelope into the Official Time Clock. The time stamped on the bid envelope was 10:59. Had it said 11:01 the bid would be invalid and there would be no Land Trust.
Now into the Bid Room, where the MARTA Man ceremoniously opens and publicly announces each bid. The Trustees won the bids for two of the three parcels of the Land. But the biggest and most important parcel, from the Arizona cul-de-sac all the way to the middle of the Fire Pit, was won by the developer. Bummer. As the Trustees left the building, they consoled themselves with phrases like “We have the High Ground and the Nelms corner, pretty good,” etc. But they all knew it was a Serious Bummer, especially since most of the Trustees and Supporters lived on Arizona and surrounding streets and would have no good access to the Land without the Arizona parcel.
Two days later the MARTA Man calls: The developer wanted All or Nothing, so he was dropping out. The Arizona parcel was available, did the Trustees want to buy it? YES, YES, YES. Life is Good.
The Real Estate Closing happened in one of the beautiful Old Mansions of Inman Park. The meeting was attended by MARTA lawyers, BOND lawyers, and several Trustee Officers of the Land Trust, as required by Law for the Signing. An hour later, after the passing around and signing of many Important Papers, the Lake Claire Community Land Trust was the proud Owner and Steward of the Land.
The total price for all three parcels was $26,500. The Note with BOND Credit Union was for 15 years, with four Trustees signing on the Bottom Line, pledging to repay the Note in proper fashion. Two Trustee families paid BOND the down payment money.
Fifteen years later, the Paid in Full Note was burned in a happy public ceremony in the Arizona cul-de-sac. Several of the Children of the Trustees had the honor of holding up the burning Note as the onlookers cheered. Thus in a way the Torch was passed, as must happen for any worthy Endeavor to be sustainable so as to benefit Future Generations. And the Land Trust continues to prosper and function as a Greenspace for wonderfulness, and new Ideas happen, most of them good, and sometimes children who grew up with the Land Trust return as adults, telling how good it was to have the Land Trust to experience, and occasionally they appear with their own Children, to play on the Land Trust.
So the elderly Pioneers now have the pleasure of seeing new Young People starting to take over, respectfully and with good intent. And perhaps the original Elderly, whose Land was eaten by the Kudzu, can look down and see the Land flourishing, and see that the Kudzu is contained and new Young People are being vigilant to keep it contained, and thus they can relax in Heaven, where there is no Kudzu.