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Wednesday, 17 July 2013 13:32

Will Forest Hills residents chip in to buy old, overgrown golf course?

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Presented with a tempting yet expensive offer, the Village of Forest Hills has to choose whether to buy an abandoned golf course in the center of its small community, or stand by and watch it be developed.

 

The residential enclave at the doorstep of Western Carolina University has humble roots as a country club, but the golf course fell by the wayside nearly two decades ago and quickly devolved into a scrubby, overgrown tract. 

The owner of the has-been golf course recently asked town leaders if they wanted to buy all or part of the 60-acre tract for $1 million or more. If not, it would be sold for housing development.

Smack dab in the backyards for many residents, the prospect of potentially unsightly development is cause for concern. Purchasing the tract would guarantee it stays open space.

“One of the discussions that I’ve heard in the past is to make it into a green space,” said Councilmember Clark Corwin. “If people are interested in doing something that might happen.”

However, the price tag may be too much for the tiny community of just more than 300 people to stomach. The price floated by developer Chris Green has fluctuated between nearly $1 million for a majority of the acreage to $1.4 million for all the property.

In comparison, the town’s annual operating budget is about $80,000. 

“That would be whole new ballgame to be looking at that,” Corwin said. 

Buying the property would mean taking on debt — a milestone for a town that looks and feels a lot more like a homeowner’s association that a bona fide municipality. The chief reason Forest Hills even became a town at all was to impose zoning rules, like keeping out student apartments and condominiums. It has very few services, no full-time employees, and as a result, a very low property tax rate — more akin to homeowners’ dues really.

Buying the old golf course would almost surely force the residents to pay more in taxes, one way or another. How much and for long would still need to be hashed out.

And realistically speaking maintaining that size of property would be difficult for a primarily volunteer government, said Kolleen Begley, a member of the Forest Hills Estates Homeowners Association.

“Acquiring this tract would be too much for any voluntary council to manage,” Begley said. “We’re still trying to get answers to getting potholes filled and other items that matter to taxpaying property owners and residents.”

Begley was against any sort of tax money being used for the purchase and characterized it as “quite” the financial burden on homeowners.

If the community doesn’t buy it, the now-vacant tract could become more houses. The developer would not comment for this article. 

If it is built on, the number of homes would be limited by Forest Hills’ zoning rules. The zoning rules require generous two-acre lots per home, so if it was built on, at least it wouldn’t too out of character with the community. Anything more than that would need some type of variance from town leaders.

But any sort of decision — to buy or not to buy — will first be opened up to the community in a public forum, possibly in August. 

Councilmember Carl Hooper espoused the positive aspects of the village owning the property: more green space, parks and a central gathering place. But he was also realistic about the prospect.

“It would beneficial to the community if we had it,” he said. “But it’s not something that we have to have.”

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