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Sustainable Homes and Intentional Community Planning
Sustainable Homes and Intentional Community Planning. It’s been awhile since I posted the latest developments of my project with The Action Not Words Project (TANWP). We’re building sustainable homes in an intentional community we’re developing for senior citizens and displaced veterans.
I’ve been super busy! I have a lot of helpful information for anyone that’s interested in intentional community planning. Keep in mind that this article is geared toward building an intentional community within a nonprofit structure. However, a lot of what I outline can be used if you’re creating an intentional community with a private group of people.
Check out my other earlier posts here and here to see how this project got started.
In January, we had our first donation of household items from local Atlanta real estate entrepreneur, Nadia Carr. She was kind of enough to donate $5,000 worth of items!
- Torn out kitchen cabinets
- Torn out bathroom cabinets
- Light fixtures
- Garden tools
- Lawn mower
And much more!
Also, one of my friends donated $500 to rent a U-Haul to move the items and pay for several months of storage. These items will be put to good use in the sustainable homes we will be building. Here are some of the pics:
Fulton County Land Bank Isn’t a Good Fit
I mentioned in another post that we’re looking to get 4 acres of donated land or to buy unused property for the cost of back taxes from the Fulton County Land Bank. I chose several properties from a long list posted on their website. When I called their office I was told that the properties on the website needed research on if the titles were clear. That would not work since researching titles is time consuming and requires an attorney, which is very expensive.
Building in Fulton County wasn’t the top choice since the property taxes there are expensive. Other choices included Rockdale County and Dekalb County since their property taxes are lower and those locations aren’t too far away from central Atlanta. Location is important since the community needs to be accessible via public transportation for the convenience of seniors and veterans that don’t have cars.
We also want low property taxes for those that would be purchasing parcels. The nonprofit would own most of the property which would include the farm and the common house that all the residents would have access to for community dinners, workshops, library, etc. Outside of these areas, the land would be sectioned off and sold as parcels to individual residents and they would own that property. Low income seniors and displaced veterans will have fees waived based on income and volunteer participation.
Rockdale County told me they didn’t have a land lank to assist us. But never fear, good things are around the corner!
Dekalb County Land Bank Wants to Help!
It most certainly looks like Dekalb is the place for us to be! I talked to the Dekalb County Land Bank (DCLB). They started a Land Bank last year and are interested in assisting us. They also referred me to the Dekalb County Community Development (DCCD). That department is interested in helping us too!
DCLB wants to help us locate land through foreclosed, unused property that we can purchase for back taxes from Bank of America.
I sent DCCD the overview of our community plan and then a joint meeting was scheduled with both departments.
Weeks before the meeting, I talked to the zoning department about the size of homes allowed in the county. Our original plan was to build 45, 600 sf sustainable homes: straw bale, earth bag, and storage container homes. Dekalb’s current regulations allow 1,000 sf as the smallest home that can be built. However, they have a committee vote on March 25, to see if 800 sf homes will be allowed. If that passes then we will change to that size since smaller homes are easier to maintain.
The community is all about the residents living there being able to maintain their homes, save money, and to live as self-sufficiently as possibly. Of course, we are a group of people helping each other to keep up the property and homes, but we’re designing things to be as simple and efficient as possible!
Visit to Dawsonville, Ga Straw bale House
We visited one of the sustainable, natural built homes that our natural home builder, Bob Billings built. (Here his talk at our meeting here.) Owners, Jeff and Cricket were kind enough to give us a tour of their beautiful 4,000 sf strawbale home. Some pictures of the home and property are scrolling at the top of this article.
The home sits on 7 acres, complete with a chicken coop (they have the most beautiful golden rooster), garden, the biggest bunny rabbits I’ve ever seen, and a small 10x 24 cabin that Jeff uses as his man cave. They still are working on some finishing touches to the house.
Me and the TANWP crew plan on going back on May 1 to help them build a wall made from wine bottles. Jeff said that this would be good technique to learn and use for building our sustainable homes. Plus, he will help us build once we get our land. That’s what I love about working on this project: that in the natural building and co-housing community, people love to help each other. This is the way the world should be.
More pics are here:
Transitioning to Live Sustainably in a Strawbale Home
One of the things I found very interesting and helpful was Cricket sharing her struggle with transitioning from living in a centrally located regular home subdivision, to living far away in the country, in a sustainable home.
The couple has two wonderful kids, ages 5 and 10, who didn’t have a difficult time with this change. But Cricket is very socialable and very much a city girl like me, and at first, had a hard time adjusting. She’s very talkative and bubbly and I can imagine her going off on Jeff when he approached her with the idea to live sustainably, which was his idea and not hers. I can especially picture her having a fit when she told me that when they first moved into the strawbale home, there was no electricity for a short time as they were building.
But now, Cricket told me she’s so happy that the family did this change since it’s brought the family even closer together. They are such a loving family. I could feel love emanating from them as we stood in their cozy kitchen sipping on tea and coffee. She learned to appreciate this quiet life and still be able to hang out with her friends that live an hour away, a couple times a month.
This goes back to what I said in my first post about starting an intentional community, about simplifying and finding out what makes a home, a home. As I observed this family, it’s clear to me that what makes them happy is spending quality time together. Plus, Cricket and Jeff are pleased as peaches of being able to raise their kids in a healthy environment.
Preparing for Dekalb County Meeting
As we went through our giant planning Google doc to prepare our proposal, Charlene-TANWP founder, decided to downsize to building just 20 homes. This was a good decision since starting smaller makes working on a new project much easier. That way we can expand slowly after we deal with any setbacks that may come up.
To prepare the meeting documents we included research that showed the importance of sustainable homes and an intentional community being built in the county. This is standard to put into a proposal presented for a county project and for applying grants. I started researching like a mad woman thinking that this was going be like working on a college term paper. Charlene who has experience in writing proposals and grants told me to just use snippets of research for the presentation. You’re not writing a dissertation paper. What’s in the proposal is supporting information that backs up why the project is needed for the county.
In our case, we added this research:
- National Council for Aging statistics on senior citizens medical expenses and living costs
- U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services recommendation on citizens being environmentally involved
- Environmental Protection Agency stating the need for cities to embrace green and sustainable technology
Format for proposal includes these sections:
- Project abstract (which summarizes the project in two or three sentences)
- Statement of need
- Project description
- Organizational and staff information
- Partners for project
- Attachment of IRS determination letter
Meeting with Dekalb County Land Bank (DCLB) and Dekalb County Community Development (DCCD) Departments
We met with DCLB and DCCD in a joint meeting last week and the meeting went well. It ended with them wanting us to email pictures of what strawbale and earthbag homes look like, since nearby homeowners want neighbors to have homes that blend into what other homes look like. We assured them that these types of sustainable homes can be built to look like regular homes, in that they are finished with stucco. We will be sending them the pictures posted here along with pictures of other natural built homes.
In the meantime I’m waiting to hear back from the building department to tell me what type of natural materials are allowed for home construction. Then we can begin to worth with DCLB on getting property.
Things are moving along quickly and I’m grateful that both of the departments are very interested in our project. Nothing like this sustainable eco-village has been done in the county before. Plus, there are local funds available to our nonprofit to provide housing for veterans, since President Obama has a nationwide initiative to make sure veterans have homes. These two factors will put Dekalb County in a good light and set a standard for other cities to duplicate nationwide once we get this sustainable housing community built.
Stay tuned for more updates in the upcoming weeks.