Saturday, June 24, 2006

Ridgetop Development in Madison County

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From an article in the Christian Science Monitor:
"MARS HILL, N.C. – Nearly 5,000 feet high, Charles and Deborah Ericksons' ridge-top cabin is perched like a falcon's nest on a cliff face. It's one of a rapidly growing subset of vacation homes called "ridge-top development" - where homes are literally bolted to the mountaintop.

"It's almost heaven," says Ms. Erickson, a retiree who spends half the year in these mountains, the other half in Naples, Fla. She has been drawn to the Smoky Mountains since she visited in her childhood.

The price range for these mountaintop homes? $225,000 to $1.5 million.

But these scenic views come with other costs: Ridge-top building may cause downstream water pollution and wreck trout streams by causing too much silt to pour off denuded slopes. Others worry that as rooftops, decks, and greens poke out from the ridges, this pursuit of the perfect view may ruin the view for others - and compromise the region's most precious asset: its beauty.

"These mountain communities face a dilemma where they've got an eroding economic system and the only choice is to take in things that are going to damage the environment and change the culture," says Charlie Derber, a sociologist at Boston College."
As the overall real estate market slowly cools, high-end resort development is booming, experts say. For example, in 2000, just over 500,000 vacation homes were sold. That figure tipped 1 million homes for the first time last year, according to Reach Advisors.

The trend of mounting homes onto ridge tops also results from lax zoning laws, a culture that values property rights, and the skill of savvy resort developers who can easily influence local communities hungry for tax revenue and job opportunities, experts say.

"Ridge-top development is in part a geographical quirk of the Appalachians and in part [the result of the fact] that people are wealthy enough to actually be able to afford the high cost of construction and engineering that make it possible," says Mr. Chung.

The largest ridge-top enclaves in these parts are Wolf Laurel near Mars Hill and Mountain Air in Burnsville, N.C., but there are dozens of smaller developments in the North Carolina towns of Boone, Highlands, and Cashiers.

Here at Wolf Laurel, developers, including Rick Bussey and Orville English, have already built more than 600 homes and have plans for a total of 1,000 homes in the next few years."
"Indeed, many local residents, environmentalists, and advocates for the Appalachian Trail have been speaking out against such construction. A citizens' committee around Boone is trying to convince elected officials to outlaw construction on steep slopes. In March, 300 local residents showed up at a planning board meeting to oppose rezoning proposals at Wolf Laurel, which were eventually approved.

At Mountain Air, investigators with the North Carolina Division of Land Quality found that developers had shifted the course of a trout stream by diverting it through a culvert without permits. Higher-than-usual amounts of silt in the water have been found, which can affect trout breeding.

Also under scrutiny is a possible air- strip at Wolf Laurel just a few hundred yards from the watershed for Mars Hill."

Read the rest.

1 comment:

modpez said...

when i lived in jackson county in the 70's folks were beginning to pour in from fla., buy a mountain top, build on it, and chop down trees for the view. after about a year the fact of moving water would become unpleasantly apparent. and the reason the local folks had situated themselves in tight protected coves became obvious to all.