Talk of the Town - Country mouse, city house August 14 2003

Ormewood farmer fights taxman

Six rolling acres of untouched land in the lucrative East Atlanta area have developers dreaming of dollars as they try to satisfy the city's ever-increasing influx of new urbanites. But when they make offers on this acreage along Entrenchment Creek, the owner always turns them down. For more than eight years, Brian Harrison has been waging a quiet war against the gentrification by amassing lots behind his home in up-and-coming Ormewood Park. Visions of a community vegetable garden dance in his head as he fights two other major battles: kudzu and the taxman.

Creative Loafing: How long have you lived here?

Brian Harrison: I've been here 13 years now, things have changed. ... The new homes are a little closer than I'd like them to be.

When did you start buying the lots behind your house?

I got the first lots around '96, during the Olympics, next week I'm hoping to get some from my neighbors. All together, I've got 13 lots.

I've heard you're having trouble with the taxes on some of the newer lots?

I don't know which is worse — the taxman or the kudzu. On some of the older lots, I have an agriculture/ conservation tax status, which makes the taxes pretty low, but the other ones they denied my request for the conservation easement and want to charge me full price for a buildable lot. Now I have to make an appeal to the judge.

How high can the taxes get for some of the lots?

One of them is going to be a couple thousand dollars — it's the biggest vacant lot. That's why I'm working all the time, so I can pay my taxes.

What are some of the jobs you work to pay all the taxes?

I just got a daytime job at Oakland Cemetery working with the yard crew. It's a cycle: I'm working, mowing the lawn so the city can pay me, so that I can pay my taxes. Mostly I just run the weed eater all day, but when Maynard died, that was a big deal because the lawn crew also has to be the gravedigger crew.

Have you been able to grow much on the land?

It used to be all kudzu but I've been usin' Round Up and stuff. You have to do it a few years in a row to get it to go away. Now I have some little Christmas trees and some grapes and some blueberries and a whole assortment of different fruit trees.

You've also seen a lot of wildlife here?

I think when there was a black bear in the neighborhood, they said he'd probably come up the creek. I've also seen opossums, raccoons, hawks, falcons and turtles, frogs and rabbits.

Do you know a lot of your home's history?

I met the guy who grew up here in the 50s — he just drove up one day wantin' to see the old place. It was his dad who planted the kudzu for the cows on his farm to eat. I invited him in and made him a burger.

What do you see ultimately happening to this space?

I might live here all my life, I don't think I'll find any place I like better — it's like a little piece of the country in the city.