This is Patterson Hood's old house on East Broad Street. Looks bucolic, huh? Below is the view up the hill from the front yard.
When Atlanta-based Selig Enterprises wanted to build a massive development that may have included a Walmart just east of downtown, Patterson Hood wasn’t having it. With a pickup band of local all-stars dubbed The Downtown 13, Hood recorded “After It’s Gone,” a song that drew national attention to the Selig development in 2012.
We thought the “it” in the song was our quaint downtown full of locally owned businesses, but it turns out the “it” is Hood’s neighborhood down the hill.
After two years of planning and protests, the Selig development went belly-up in 2013. But Landmark Properties, an Athens-based student housing developer, swooped in, buying the former Armstrong & Dobbs tract near the corner of East Broad and Oconee streets and partnering with Selig on very similar development that’s now under construction, without the Walmart.
Just east of that development is Potterytown, a 1930s mill neighborhood that’s a mix of student rentals and owner-occupied houses. Before moving to Portland, OR earlier this year, the Hoods lived at 920 E. Broad St.—in the shadow of The Mark, Landmark’s new development, and the equally massive 909 Broad student apartment complex across the street.
In April, according to tax records, Pottery Street LLC, a company associated with Landmark, started buying up properties surrounding the Hoods’ house, which is just across the future rail-trail from The Mark. The Hoods’ property hasn’t officially changed hands yet, but it will early next month.
Rebecca Hood, Patterson’s wife, said they had originally intended to rent out the house when the left for Portland, in part to escape construction at The Mark.
“We decided that this was the time to get our family out of the neighborhood that was literally growing up around us, as it came to the point that we were doing our children a disservice by staying, as they have lived their entire lives to that point in that location and had been constantly surrounded by large commercial construction projects,” she said.
Hood said she knew developers would inevitably come knocking and insisted on being able to preserve the house she put her “blood, sweat and tears” into since 1999 as part of the sale. The Hoods included in their contract with Landmark a stipulation that, for $10, the historic house could be moved out to Orange Twin, the eco-village in northeastern Clarke County that Laura Carter and other members of the Elephant 6 collective have been working on for a decade.
Carter was on tour with Nana Grizol this week while at the same time trying to make arrangements to move the house. Contractors were lined up and the city had signed off on the permit, but the forecast called for two weeks of steady rain, so Friday, she had to call off the move. Originally, Landmark didn’t want the house, but now it does; if it’s not moved by Jan. 5, Landmark gets it, so the company refused to push back the deadline, she said. (CEO Wes Rogers declined to comment, citing a confidentiality agreement.)
In the end, the risk that Orange Twin could be sued was too great. “Everybody gave it their all,” Carter said. Hood, for her part, held out hope that Landmark might offer an extension.
Those common secrecy agreements put the seller at a disadvantage, not knowing which neighbors have sold out and for how much, said Carter, who has dealt with another similar situation in moving a threatened historic house to Orange Twin.
“They’re shrewd businessmen, and they didn’t break any laws, but it’s not the kind of thing I like to see in Athens,” she said.
The future of Potterytown—one of Athens’ few remaining affordable in-town neighborhoods—is in doubt. It’s zoned commercial-downtown, allowing for high density. Weaver D’s and the rentals on Wilkerson Street owned by the Mingledorff family have been available for years. As for the properties around Pottery Street, nothing has been submitted to the Athens-Clarke County Planning Department.
“We have acquired a few properties in Potterytown but have no immediate plans for them,” Rogers said. “We just love owning good real estate in Athens.”