Neighbors pull plug on injured vet's home

Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens was injured in Afghanistan.

An Evans neighborhood association has blocked a group that was prepared to build a home free of charge for a local veteran who was injured in Iraq.

The homebuilding group, Homes for Our Troops, says Knob Hill Property Owners Association approved the home's design June 2 but reversed its decision in a later meeting.

A member of the association, however, says the group got only a conditional approval, pending a review of its design; the neighborhood is carefully protected by building covenants, and the final design did not fit.

Homes for Our Troops -- a national organization that has built or remodeled homes for more than 100 severely injured veterans -- had planned to build a house for Army Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens and his family this weekend. Gittens suffered concussive head injuries while serving in Iraq. After he returned home, a brain aneurysm caused a stroke that left him partially paralyzed.

Homes for Our Troops worked for four months with the Knob Hill Property Owners Association to get the design approved, according to John Gonsalves, the group's founder. But at an association meeting, members said the 2,700-square-foot home was too small and neighbors thought it would bring property values down, Gonsalves said. A cease-and-desist order was issued as the site was being prepared last week.

"We've done everything they've asked. For them to do this at the last minute is very disturbing," he said. "I don't think there's a community in America that shouldn't embrace this family after what they've sacrificed. No one deserves it more."

But owners association member Tom Rogers said Homes for Our Troops did not do everything asked of it. The group did not have written approval from the association's architectural review board, but negotiated through e-mail only.

"What's important to understand is the family already lives here. They're a great family. We have no qualms with them," Rogers said. "The problem is, that street down there has 5,000-square-foot homes all the way up and down the street there. ... It just doesn't fit. That's the whole issue."

Gonsalves said his team checked association documents, which do recommend that at least 2,700-square-foot houses be built, but Rogers said homeowners in that section built much larger homes.

"We want to protect our homes that we worked hard to achieve, and we want everyone to be treated equally," Rogers said. "These people will have to go through the same process as everyone else did."

Correction

Sgt. 1st Class Sean Gittens was injured in Iraq. Due to a reporter's error an earlier version of this story incorrectly reported the country where Gittens was deployed.

Homes For Our Troops Profile on SFC Sean Gittens
Homes For Our Troops website
Neighborhood decision upsets wife of war vet