Thursday, October 18, 2007

Pine Lake, Ga., Population 621

Pine Lake sounds like someplace snuggled up against the hills of Habersham or the valleys of Hall. Well, not exactly. Instead, it is in the flatlands of DeKalb, triangulated by Rockbridge Rd., Harriston Rd., and Memorial Dr., surrounded by Stone Mountain mailing addresses. The city has an area of only two-tenths of a square mile, five percent of which is the lake. But it is a real, certified, official city with a mayor, city council, city manager, and police department.

According to the 2000 census, the population of Pine Lake was 621, consisting of 321 households, of which 18 percent included children, 26 percent were married couples, 12 percent had a female householder with no husband present, and 56 percent were non-families. The median age was 38 years. The median income per household was $41,029, and the median income for a family was $35,313. Per capita income was $21,529. . The racial makeup was 74 percent White, 17 percent African American.

The Census, which is required by the United States Constitution, does not know how to tell you this, but Pine Lake is a haven for artists, writers, musicians, school teachers, social workers, single moms, Heather’s two mommies, old hippies and descendants of old hippies. Last weekend, a band played at the gazebo on Saturday afternoon to support the establishment of a U.S. Department of Peace. That evening residents brought Asian, African, European, and South American dishes to a pot luck International Dinner at the Beach House. Then on Sunday an artists market and show was held at lakeside.

Many people who live in Pine Lake think it is a pretty special place. There is the lake, of course, and adjacent open space, flocks of Canada Geese, ducks, turtles, and other wildlife. But what is really special about Pine Lake is the people who make it home. And what is the attraction? No secret. Two words. Affordable housing.

Recently Pine Lake established an Architectural Review Board, after declaring a moratorium on new home construction. "Development is coming like a tsunami," said Melanie Hammet, singer/songwriter and elected member of the city council and ex officio member of ARB. “Pine Lake is a lakefront community seven miles from Emory village that needs to GET REAL.” ”If houses are going to get built and development is going to happen,” she says she wants “small, great-quality, environmentally sensible, community-minded, context-sensitive homes.” To that end, the Pine Lake ARB has adopted regulations to control the footprint (the percentage of the lot occupied by the building) of newly constructed houses, limited them to one and a half stories, and prohibited certain building materials, such as vinyl siding.

Before the ARB, some houses were built that dwarfed existing homes in Pine Lake and sold for seven, eight, or ten times the annual incomes of those Pine Lake residents reported by the 2000 Census. Some developers, builders, and their friends have even stated with a straight face that they contribute to diversity by building houses for more upper income families, an under-represented demographic in Pine Lake. You just never know when Pine Lake will get slapped with a law suit because it does not have enough families who can afford to provide their children private educations far away from the DeKalb County Public Schools.

(Originally posted 9-21-07)

Copyright 2007 by William C. Cotter

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