Neighbors link woodland habitat in an in-town neighborhood
Story and photographs by Tom Oder
Reproduced with permission from the Georgia-Alabama Conservationist, 2018, pp. 20–21
In 1975, four households in the in-town community of Candler Park, later joined by a fifth, formed a co-tenancy to share and protect two acres of open green space and a woodland. In 2001, the co-tenants re-organized into a tighter organization and formed a Limited Liability Company (LLC) called Tern Valley. In December of that year, the LLC placed 1.5 acres of the land near Atlanta’s eclectic Little Five Points under a conservation easement.
The story of creating the easement begins in 1966 when Don Bender, a Mennonite who became a Quaker, moved to Atlanta from Delaware. He and his wife, Judy, moved into Candler Park’s Oakdale Road–Miller Avenue neighborhood in 1972. Three years later, the Benders joined several other Quakers who lived in the area in forming the co-tenancy, which purchased two mostly kudzu- covered acres with frontage on Oakdale and Miller, and moved into a house on Oakdale adjoining the co-tenants’ land.
The property was perfect for the group’s goal of communal use of the land: the backyards came together in an open area without any natural boundaries, and behind the yards was a rare in-town woodland forest of oak, poplar, and other trees that provided protection for a nearby wetland and stream. Their back boundary was a 40-foot-wide right-of-way for a street that was never built, land that later would become protected along with a neighboring plot on the opposite side of the unbuilt street.
“The primary motivation initially was that [the co-tenants] wanted to conserve and keep some open space in the city. We had the opportunity to buy this property, which lent itself to that,” says Don. The co-tenancy membership changed as some of the original Quaker members dropped out and were replaced by non-Quakers. One of the non-Quakers to buy in was Kelly Jordan, well known in Atlanta conservation circles for his involvement in several high- profile preservation projects. After they changed the co-tenancy to the LLC, Kelly suggested further formalizing conservation of the land through the conservation easement, which the other LLC members agreed to do.
Kelly had lived in the neighborhood since 1974 and, in 1981, bought a house on Oakdale next to the co-tenants’ land. In 1977, partners Roger Bakeman and Daryl Nenstiel were assembling land on Miller on the opposite side of the right-of-way from the co-tenancy to build a passive solar house (which Kelly designed), but zoning and right-of-way issues prevented optimal siting. Kelly worked with the co-tenancy, Roger, Daryl, and the city to convince the city to abandon the right-of-way and sell it evenly, split 20-feet-wide down the middle, to both parties. The change, which required a City Council vote, allowed Bakeman and Nenstiel to site their house as desired.
In October 2002, Roger and Daryl followed the LLC’s lead and put 1.47 acres of their adjoining land in an easement. That doubled the protected green space to approximately three acres, providing a crucial forested linkage connecting the habitat and preventing it from becoming fragmented. By working together, the neighbors preserved a small refuge for a diversity of wildlife that also helps protect a wetlands and nearby waterway and enhances the aesthetic enjoyment of the community.
Roger is hoping for an even greater linkage. “This is a story of dominoes,” he says, pointing out that the two easements were the first dominoes. Now, he’s waiting for the third domino to fall, specifically several vacant lots on Miller he hopes will be put into an easement. “I want that domino to fall before I die.”
In the meantime, neither Roger nor Daryl has regretted the decision to preserve land on which a consultant told them they could build five houses and reap a nice financial gain. “We love our house and we love our land and we don’t want to see it turned into condos,” Daryl said. “We don’t have kids,” added Roger. “This is a way to leave something.”