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Jackson County leaders have decided that tradition is overrated.

Six months after the new Jackson County library opened, commissioners have decided whose name to put on a plaque in the foyer — a spot that until now featured a cardboard placeholder.

The verdict?

The names of two different boards of commissioners will be listed on the commemorative plaque for the new library, not just the board of commissioners who took the political heat when it was built.

“Can we talk about the plagues?” Chairman Jack Debnam asked fellow board members during a daylong retreat last week, a reference to a typo on the agenda sheet that was supposed to read, “library plaques.”

County Manager Chuck Wooten added, also amused by the typo, “I have not taken any steps to order those plaques. And I just need some direction, and it will be a plague I can eliminate from my agenda.”

The tempest in a teacup first burbled to public notice last summer, when Jackson County in June celebrated the opening of its $8 million public library in Sylva, a project that included renovations to the historic courthouse.

Before new commissioners and a new county manager took office last fall, former County Manager Ken Westmoreland had submitted the design for a plaque with a typical inscription used on new-building plaques in Jackson County. The plaque was to list the names of the political leaders who were responsible for funding the library; the county manager’s name leading the effort; and the names of the architect and general contractor involved.

When three new commissioners took office, that plaque design was placed on hold.

Wooten told commissioners that on his own initiative he decided that giving sole credit to the former commissioners wasn’t fitting. The new commissioners were making a substantial investment in the new library by increasing its annual operating budget. Wooten felt the three new board members should be included, too. But Wooten decided not to include the name of the previous county manager’s name, or his as the current county manager. He did opt to keep the architect and general contractor.

“At that point in time, I said, ‘Well, maybe we should take a different approach to it,’” Wooten said in explanation.

Debnam, in typical fashion told fellow board members that he’d rather take yet a different approach, an even more radical one than that being offered by the county’s manager — Debnam questioned whether any commissioners at all should attempt to claim plaque acclaim.

“Well, I for one have an issue with self gratification,” Debnam said, adding that county buildings are “built by and for the people of Jackson County.”

“What did we do?” Debnam said as he expounded on his individual theory of plaque appropriateness. “It’s not our money we’re spending. I know there seems to be a history of doing this — somewhere it started, somewhere it needs to end.”

It didn’t end this time, though. Commissioner Joe Cowan, who in fact voted against building the new public library at the site of old historic courthouse, agreed that both boards should be included on the plaque. Cowan did not touch on his opposition to where the new library was sited, even though he has gone on record recently reminding people that he had been against the site when predictions of a parking shortage on courthouse hill came true.

But that was then, and before Jackson County residents posted record numbers in library attendance and the facility won a statewide award for general loveliness and excellence.

A plaque, Cowan said as he expounded on his own theory of plaque appropriateness, “identifies who was around, and maybe who had the guts to stand up and build the building, by golly — that you are willing to stand up and put your neck and maybe your next election on the line.”

Cowan said that he believed there’s no shame in credit being given where credit was due.

“I don’t have a problem whatsoever with both boards being on there. In some ways, it’s more reflective of what has happened,” Cowan said in summation, still minus mention that he opposed the new library being built as an add-on to Jackson County’s historic courthouse.

The plaque will cost between $1,100 and $1,900, based on whether it is aluminum or brass, Wooten said, after receiving enough of a consensus from the board to combat this ongoing plague.

The road less traveled

The question ‘which way to Cherokee?’ continues bedeviling the state transportation department, which has been caught in a tug-of-war between Jackson County and Maggie Valley over who deserves a sign pointing the “right” way to Cherokee.

Maggie Valley currently holds title to the sole directional sign pointing motorists to Cherokee via U.S. 19 and over Soco Gap — and would like to keep it that way.

“We are all for helping promote Jackson County, but not at the expense of Maggie Valley,” said Maggie Valley Mayor Ron DeSimone.

The N.C. Department of Transportation is “leaning toward” posting a sign indicating that there are in fact two routes to Cherokee — one through Maggie and one that continues on past Sylva.

But by posting another sign, the department of transportation would “take away from one and give to another,” said Alderman Mike Matthews. “There has not been enough information to say you should go this way versus this way.”

Jackson County officials, meanwhile, have lobbied for the second sign, pointing out that the four-lane highway going past Sylva is actually safer and more user friendly than the route through Maggie. The tribe has expressed a desire for a second sign.

“They feel like the two-lane road over Soco is hazardous,” said Reuben Moore, a DOT official who works in the regional office in Sylva.

But DeSimone questioned Jackson’s true motive.

“Obviously, Jackson County did not bring this up because they were concerned for public welfare,” DeSimone said.

Maggie Valley could win out, however, as the DOT has yet to find a place to put the new sign and has not settled on concise wording.


Safety and travel time

Moore updated the Maggie Valley Board of Aldermen on the status of the sign issue at a town meeting last week.

If the DOT decides to allow a new sign, it would be placed by May before the beginning of the tourist season.

But, posting a new sign faces several obstacles, including where to place it.

“It takes about a mile of signage to properly sign an exit,” Moore said. But the roadside leading up to the Maggie exit is already cluttered with signage.

DOT has not settled on the appearance of the sign. It cannot simply put two dueling arrows on a sign pointing this way or that way to Cherokee.

“That is strictly against policy,” Moore said.

The DOT has discussed making a sign with the words Cherokee spanning the top half of the sign and the mileage for both routes below it: U.S. 74 at 37 miles and U.S. 19 at 24 miles.

Although the route through Maggie is shorter distance-wise, a study by the DOT showed that travel time was essentially the same — about 35 minutes — no matter which road was taken.

“We found that the travel time was very nearly the same,” Moore said.

Initially, Moore wanted the sign to specify that the travel time was about the same no matter which route is taken, but DOT vetoed the idea because traffic or accidents could delay travel along one of the roads.

The department only test-drove the routes three times during the late fall and winter. The times do not account for increased traffic during the summer and early fall months when tourists flood the area. Get stuck behind a slow moving Winnebago, and the trip through Soco Gap could be a grueling one.

The review of both routes showed that the crash rate on U.S. 19 is 10 percent higher.

Alderman Mike Matthews said that the two roads are incomparable when it comes to wrecks because U.S. 19 runs through a town where cars are often slowing down or speeding up and pulling in or out of parking lots. The U.S. 441 route, however, is a four-lane divided highway.

“I don’t even see how that could be compared,” Matthews said.

Maggie Valley officials said they want “overwhelming, definitive information” showing that the road through Jackson County is safer.

Does DOT consider U.S. 19 to be safe, Matthews asked?

“Absolutely,” Moore responded.

Aldermen Saralyn Price asked Moore pointblank which road would he take if it was snowing and he was in Lake Junaluska.

“I wouldn’t be out,” Moore said.

The Board of Aldermen argued that the DOT has not provided any information that would validate a decision to post a new directional sign.

“I have not heard anything definite about (U.S. 441) being safer,” DeSimone said.


Capturing tourism dollars

Maggie Valley and Jackson County each hope to attract a portion of the 3.5 million people who visit the casino in Cherokee each year.

The idea that Maggie Valley will lose business should an alternative route be posted “presupposes that people are going to do what the signs tell them to do,” Moore said.

Jackson County commissioners haven’t been shy about their desires to funnel tourism traffic through that county. Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten and the five county commissioners expressed surprise last week that their request for a sign had triggered uproars in Maggie Valley.

As they hammered out possible designs for a new welcome sign at the county line, Commissioner Doug Cody joked that they should add to Jackson County’s fantasy sign: “This is the best route to Cherokee.”

A decision will be made based on safety and the speed of traffic, assured Moore, not based on which route is more scenic or needs more business.

According to Jackson County Travel and Tourism, visitors have said that they prefer to take U.S. 441 to Cherokee. But, Moore said he can’t confirm whether that is true.

Jackson County commissioners plan this week to discuss the upcoming property revaluation, though it remains unclear whether they will postpone the process as some residents are requesting.

In a revaluation, every home, lot and tract of land is assigned a new property value to reflect the going real estate market — a value that in turn dictates how much people pay in property taxes. But, the volatile real estate market has led many counties to postpone revaluations.

Jackson County has postponed its revaluation until 2013, but Tax Assessor Bobby McMahan has suggested waiting a couple more years. McMahan plans to give a report on the issue during a commissioner work session Jan. 13.

The market value of high-priced lots and homes are destined to fall in a countywide revaluation. Delaying the reval means the county can continue taxing high-end properties at inflated book value. Going ahead with the reval would shift property tax burden to median-priced properties as those are more likely to hold their value while the high-end properties fall — and that’s what Jackson County residents are protesting.

“You will be negatively impacting the lower-income families,” said Avram Friedman, an environmental advocate in Sylva.

Allen Lomax, a local real estate agent, told Jackson County commissioners a property revaluation “will definitely” have the most wallop on the wallets of the less affluent in the county.

While Macon and Swain have postponed their revaluations for a couple more years, Haywood County went ahead with its last year.

Counties must do a revaluation every eight years, which wouldn’t be until 2016 for Jackson.

Carol Odom of the Glenville community views the situation from another angle. She told commissioners that she’s neither rich nor under-taxed. Odom said she’s seen 75 percent of her income evaporate because of the dour economy. She believes homeowners shouldn’t be paying taxes based on false property values but that the whole county should “share their pain.”

“I hope you do revaluate, and that it gets shared all across the county — everyone should contribute. I’m not here to support other people financially,” Odom said.

A loosely affiliated group of 30 some people have been quietly meeting, more or less each week, in Jackson County on the heels of an Occupy Sylva event held last October.

This confederacy of the self-dubbed “99 percent” has morphed into Occupy Western North Carolina. While Asheville has its own Occupy group, OccupyWNC has become a catch-all for the counties west of Buncombe, bringing in residents from Waynesville, Franklin and farther west who expressed a desire to get involved following the Occupy Sylva rally.

“This is a much broader coalition than just Sylva,” member Allen Lomax, a Sylva resident and Waynesville-based real estate agent who also helps local, small investors connect with local, small businesses or entrepreneurs. “It has become much bigger than that.”

Don’t expect the tents or protests in WNC that you’ve seen elsewhere, or a visible police presence to ensure things stay calm. But, you also shouldn’t let the quiet nature of OccupyWNC’s gatherings fool you. These folks are dead serious about change. And they seem prepared to help make some noise, soon, to get just that. They are seeking results through “all possible nonviolent means of action.”

Gary Stamper, a Whittier resident who moved from Seattle to WNC three-and-a-half years ago, said he believes it’s time for change. And, that the nation is ripe for change.

“My outrage about what is going on is that we are losing all of our freedoms and rights. I can’t sit idly by and let it go,” Stamper said.

Stamper believes that bridges can be built to other groups, including the Tea Party and Republicans, and that the majority of Americans can work together for needed change.

“We have far more in common than not,” he said, adding that anything meaningful that happens will “start with individuals.”

“Really, we are just 100 percent,” Stamper said. “We are all in this together.”

While the OccupySylva rally last fall was organized under the auspices of the county’s Democratic party, the Democratic mantle of that event seems to have lifted, though there are certainly Democrats actively involved.

OccupyWNC is a self-described “diverse and nonpartisan coalition that acts to promote economic and social justice for the 99 plus 1 percent,” according to information provided by Lomax that has been officially approved by this very unofficial group.

OccupyWNC is open to all and seeks consensus through shared leadership, as it’s done on a national level in the Occupy events.

Lucy Christopher of Cashiers said that she became involved because of her reaction to the changes in the Middle East, and a sense of something new in the world.

“That restless unwillingness to continue with the status quo is now alive in my own country and in the neighboring part of my state,” Christopher said in an email interview. “I believe that our national security is threatened from within by its enormous economic disparity. I want a more just world for all of us, including my children and grandchildren.”

Lomax said that current financial and political situations shaping the nation are “simply not right.” Lomax cited some of the group’s dissatisfactions, including corporate ownership over most media outlets, which members believe means the message is controlled, and corporate ownership of the telecommunications industry, which is leading to increasing attempts to place restrictions on the Internet.

Though not an active conspiracy, the “1 percent,” Lomax said, is a loosely bound group of people who share common interests and, individually, great wealth.

“There’s 400 or so families involved — not that many,” he said. “And they certainly know each other, and go in the same circles. They are openly working to control legislation and are not hiding the fact that they are buying elections.”

Lomax said the Occupy movement has a much more powerful weapon than the money controlled by the 1 percent.

“We have the people,” Lomax said.


Rally with OccupyWNC for change

A nationwide rally will have its place in Western North Carolina on the streets of Bryson City at the federal building on Main Street from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m Friday, Jan. 20. Occupy groups across the nation want a constitutional amendment to end “corporate personhood and legalize Democracy.”


Attend the next OccupyWNC meeting

The OccupyWNC General Assembly meets most Tuesdays from 7 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. at the Jackson County Justice Center in Room 220.

Get more information by emailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or visit www.facebook.com/pages/OccupyWNC/243008235753789.

When Merrily Teasley returned for her second first day at the Balsam Mountain Inn in early September, a familiar couple was sitting on the entry room couch — a St. Louis duo who had visited the inn those years when she had owned it. They were there to herald her return.

“I thought, ‘Oh my. This feels good,’” Teasley said.

Teasley bought the historic inn on the courthouse steps in 1990, saving it from foreclosure and owned it until she retired in 2004. She has now resumed ownership after the former owners were forced to declare bankruptcy — and once again rescuing the inn on the courthouse steps.

She first spotted the 104-year-old inn, which sits off the Blue Ridge Parkway between Waynesville and Sylva, while night hiking with a friend. A full moon was shining down on the building.

“It looked magical,” Teasley said. “The bones of the building were just exquisite.”

Looking at the building in full daylight gave her a more realistic impression but it did not quell her attraction. The neglected bed and breakfast was not for sale at the time, recalled Teasley, who lived in Tennessee at the time.

But, when she found herself in the area a year later, Teasley found the inn up for sale. Although she was leaving the next day to go home, Teasley was able to pencil in a 6 a.m. meeting with the Realtor before she left.

“I had five hours to think about (buying) it driving over to Tennessee,” she said.

The 42,000 square-foot, 50-guest-room country inn is now one of seven structures she has restored.

“I love old buildings,” Teasley said.

Because the inn is a historic landmark, Teasley had to work within the parameters of the state historic preservation department guidelines. The structure features a mixture of original aspects, such as its molding, as well as accurate replicas from the early 1900s.

Although it has been moved from its original place, a small sink still sits on the wall in the hallway near the gift shop. It was once said that the water from the sink had healing properties.

Teasley’s particular affection for the Balsam Mountain Inn is apparent as she relayed her first time seeing the inn and how green growth creeps up the mountains as the trees and other plant life begin to leaf out in the spring.

“It’s the prettiest place on earth in the spring,” she said.



Teasley officially regained ownership of the inn last month and is busy returning the building to its former glory.

“The book I was reading when I came up here in September I haven’t finished,” said Teasley, who used to read several books a week.

Even her dog is the same as before: Grover is just older now. The white-and-brown shelter dog, Teasley said, didn’t take much time to re-acclimate to his surroundings. He immediately returned to his spot behind the check-in counter, Teasley said.

When she returned to the inn this past September, one of the first orders of business was to let former patrons know she had returned.

Teasley sent out 800 notes to previous guests, telling them that the inn is “going back to the way I used to run it,” she said. Of those, she estimated that she received 220 replies.

Although things are much the same this time around, Teasley herself is more experienced. That’s helped everyone associated with the inn.

“You know what to expect this time around,” said Tom Tiberi from his perch behind the check-in desk.

Tiberi helps Teasley keep the inn. He worked for the couple who owned it during the late 2000s until they were forced to declare bankruptcy. Former regular visitors to the inn had stopped patronizing it, saying the experience had declined without Teasley at the helm.

The staff is “willing to do whatever they can to make it work again,” Teasley said, adding that Tiberi had maintained the inn while it was between owners.

Now, Tiberi’s sister, Mary Kay Morrow, has joined him as head chef of the inn’s restaurant, where dishes are made almost solely from fresh produce. Even some of its fish is shipped regularly from Hawaii, Teasley said. It is caught, packaged and delivered to the inn within 48 hours.

While breakfast is included in the cost of the room, the inn is open to anyone for dinner. The restaurant can seat up to 164 guests in its main dining room and patio. Smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings.


Stay the Night

The Balsam Mountain Inn will remain open throughout the winter months. Check-in time is after 3 p.m., and room rates range from $145 to $225 a night. The inn is located at 68 Seven Springs Drive in Balsam in the Haywood-Jackson county line.

The inn also has a restaurant, which is open to the public for dinner and breakfast daily, year-round. The dining room and patio can seat up to 164 guests, and smaller rooms are available for private dining or meetings. Musicians regularly perform at the restaurant.

855.456.9498 or balsammountaininn.net.

New owners of the high-end Balsam Mountain Preserve development aren’t daunted by the choppy waters of Western North Carolina’s real estate landscape.

Despite the still tepid demand for pricey second homes in the mountains, they say they have charted a course that will bring the beleaguered development out on the other side of the storm still raging across the rest of the region.

The 4,400-acre mega-development — one of the region’s few mountainside golf developments that can rightfully carry that tag line — has its share of battle scars. It’s been through foreclosure, repossessed by investors, hawked to the lowest bidder, babysat by an out-of-state caretaker, then put up for sale.

Now, a rescue of Balsam Mountain Preserve has come full circle. Two wealthy homeowners in the development teamed up to buy the development for $6 million — a fraction of what it was once worth.

If there’s ever a development where millionaire homeowners could emerge from the ranks to become the owners, it’s Balsam Mountain Preserve. Harry Avant of Louisiana and David Carlile of Texas knew each other previously from the oil and gas industry, even before buying their respective property in Balsam Mountain Preserve several years ago.

They have hired two former members of the Balsam sales team to come back and run the place. Jimmy McDonnell and Bruce Fine both worked together at Balsam Mountain Preserve under the original owners and developers.

“We know the owners, we know the property, we know the employees, we know the project, we know the market,” Fine said of their return, this time as president and vice president.

The hunt for solid ground in today’s new real estate landscape is more than just a financial deal for the new team.

“If there wasn’t a significant upside from a financial and business perspective we probably wouldn’t have done it. These guys are not a nonprofit entity,” Fine said. “But to save a place that you really have an emotional connection to, and it could be a good business decision at the same time, is a win-win overall.”

For the past 18 months, Balsam Mountain Preserve has been in limbo. The former owners defaulted on $19 million in debt and went into in foreclosure. The development landed in the hands of a private equity firm that immediately began looking to unload it.

So what, exactly, did Avant and Carlile get for their $6 million purchase of Balsam Mountain Preserve?

For starters, they own a really, really nice Arnold Palmer golf course. All the amenities, from the swimming pool to tennis courts to clubhouse to riding stables, are also included.

But as for what’s marketable — the pieces of the development that are worth something — there are about 130 to 150 home sites left to sell off.

Only one lot has sold in Balsam Mountain Preserve this year, however.

“2011 was kind of a lost year for Balsam. It was for sale and people knew it was for sale,” Fine said.

Despite the unimpressive showing, the new team isn’t fretting over whether Balsam Mountain Preserve will make it. Optimism over the new owners is already fueling sales, Fine said. There are two contracts pending — one on a new lot and one on an existing lot being resold by a property owner.

“We have more activity in the week we have owned this place than we’d had all year,” Fine said early last month. “People are moving forward now because it is stable. They like the story about the homeowners who have joined together and bought the place.”

Few golf course developments can claim to have that bumpy road behind them.

“Every other one has the loom of foreclosure and takeover,” McDonnell said.

Fine said few are going to emerge as intact as Balsam.

“There are so many communities in the mountains that have nothing there other than a front entrance and some renderings on paper.  Those are the places that have fallen off the end of the earth,” Fine said.

At Balsam Mountain Preserve, there is enough “critical mass” already in play, Fine said. The golf course is finished, the swimming pool has water, a restaurant and clubhouse are functioning. Roads actually lead to the lots — a novelty compared to some subdivisions that lack even that bare essential.

Most importantly, though, are the 70 homes on the ground and another 110 property owners of lots. Too many subdivisions in the mountains are empty ghost towns, and just like no one wants to eat in an empty restaurant, no one wants to be the first to build — not when it’s such a buyer’s market. And that’s why homes on the ground are an important part of Balsam’s critical mass.


Nowhere to go but up

As the rest of the nation plunged into a recession in 2008, WNC seemed insulated from the real estate crash — its quality of life, desirable views and retirement reputation helped it hang on.

But by the end of that year, the economy finally caught up with the region — and with Balsam Mountain Preserve. Lot sales simply evaporated.

With no cash coming in, the former developers Chaffin and Light, a highly reputable company known for massive eco-developments from South Carolina’s coast to Colorado, defaulted on its $19 million loan.

Chaffin had bargained hard for a work out, hoping to get an extension or refinance on the outstanding debt. Meanwhile, property owners at Balsam made a bid to save their own development from foreclosure. They raised $8 million and explored forming their own LLC to bail out Balsam Mountain Preserve and own the development themselves.

But the private equity firm, TriLyn, was unwilling to negotiate for anything less than a full payoff of the $19 million owed.

Marc Antoncic, the managing partner of the firm, arguably was in a tough spot. He was supposed to be earning investors a return on their money — not losing their money. So he had a choice. Cut his losses, take what he could get and get out — even if it meant selling Balsam at a rather substantial loss.

His other choice was to step in to the developer’s shoes himself, hoping to turn it around.

“You can’t rescue everything, but you can’t just sit back and hope it goes away,” Antoncic said in an interview 18 months ago, shortly after his take over. “If you bail today, you lose all that. We would turn over a good asset to someone else.”

In hindsight, it now seems he made the wrong choice.

He didn’t turn it around, and only got $6 million for the development in the end.

“Literally every deal they had on the table, whether it was Jim Chaffin or the homeowners, everyone of those was better than what they ultimately got,” Fine said.

“They had some great opportunities in front of them they chose not to take,” McDonnell agreed.

Homeowners, for their part, are optimistic for the first time since 2009 when Balsam Mountains Preserve headed down the path to foreclosure.

“Ever since then Balsam has been in a real state of uncertainty,” Fine said.

What would happen to the golf course had been one of their biggest fears. Well-groomed fairways with that perfect phosphorescent green hue come at a steep price. The golf course had been losing $1 million a year. The original developers, Chaffin and Light, were underwriting the cost of the golf course operations. Picking up that price tag is part of what sunk the developers.

After foreclosure, homeowners had to pony up the money to operate the course.


A new model

There are only a handful of developments in WNC in the same league as Balsam Mountain Preserve: of a similar acreage, prestige, price range and quality. And they too are seeing a comeback, suggesting the market has at long last bottomed out, Fine said.

“Prices are lower compared to where they were at in 2006, but they are coming back,” Fine said. “It sounds cliché-ish, but for someone who wants to be here this is when people want to strike. We aren’t at the bottom anymore.”

That financial strategy is part of Fine’s sales pitch. But the other part is far more emotional.

“The person who is waiting for the bottom is putting off living their life,” Fine said.

Indeed, the pent-up demand is why Fine has such a rosy outlook for 2012.

“The dynamic is people have put their plans on hold for anywhere from three to four years,” Fine said. “I’ve been sitting on the sidelines, I’m not any younger, I’m not any healthier, my grandkids are getting older.”

And that reality could drastically change the real estate paradigm in WNC. Before, baby boomers looked for lots to build their dream home on. But building a house — from deciding on a layout for the master walk-in closet to choosing the color of granite for the kitchen counter — can take two to three years. These days, prospective buyers want to get on with it — and perhaps spare their marriage the strain of a custom-built house — even if it means they won’t be picking out their own light fixtures or tile floor design.

“People want something they can move into,” Fine said. “In conjunction with that dynamic, people are also no longer buying what they can afford, they are buying less than they can afford in a lot of cases.”

People used to buy at the upper end of their limit — assuming that real estate would always be worth more next year anyway. But with appreciation less of a sure bet these days, second-home buyers are rethinking.

“Seriously, do I need 6,000 square feet in retirement? That’s how affluent people are thinking today,” Fine said.

Which means Balsam Mountain Preserve must retool its model — as with the rest of WNC’s developers.

“It is not going to be all about 2-acre single family home sites,” Fine said. “If you sit around and wait for individual home site buyers to come visit you one at a time, it will be years and years and years before you sell through all your availability.”

What’s in Balsam Mountain Preserve’s cards now would have been borderline blasphemy several years ago: smaller lots, pre-built homes, and even perhaps townhomes.

“Balsam has never had that, ever,” Fine said.

There are about 35 lots in the current phase of the development already platted and ready to sell. Another 100 or so are in the works, and will like take the form of smaller, more closely spaced lots rather than larger, spread-out ones. And, they could be sold with homes already on them rather than empty lots.

As a development, Balsam Mountain Preserve doesn’t particularly want to get into the spec home business. Developers generally sell lots, builders build homes.

But that’s where Balsam Mountain Preserve once again hopes to tap its unique base of homeowners.

Homeowners, eager to see their own community succeed, may actually finance construction of model homes by a builder. The homeowner would theoretically be helping out the builder they used and liked when building their own home, make a little money and help land new neighbors to keep Balsam Mountain Preserve stable.

“The developers who can facilitate these alliances between people who can finance — i.e., non-banks — and the builders, those are the communities that are really going to thrive in this segment,” Fine said.

Wildlife officers have charged a Cashiers man with killing a bear that he claimed was damaging his property, the second such case in Jackson County in less than a year.

Jeffrey Spencer Green, 39, was charged recently with illegally shooting and killing a 300-pound bear, according to records on file at the Jackson County Clerk of Court’s office. Green claimed the bear was damaging his house and property on Slab Town Road, but there was no evidence supporting that claim, Wildlife Officer Brent Hyatt said.

Last summer, Hyatt charged Sylva chiropractor John Caplinger with killing a bear perched in a tree on his property. Caplinger, like Green, reportedly claimed that he believed the bear a threat.

State law forbids killing a bear unless it’s causing significant property damage or is threatening a person’s life. Replacement costs for a bear are $2,213 in North Carolina. Court costs alone top $2,000. Combined convictions could carry hefty financial penalties.

Both Green and Caplinger, coincidentally, are set to appear in a Jackson County courtroom Jan. 26.

But, poaching a bear isn’t the only charge Green will face. As Hyatt traced the dead bear back to Green, it resulted in a slew of other charges against Green, plus two other Cashiers residents as well.

The investigation led to charges of an illegally killed deer and a turkey. There’s even a littering charge against Green for, according to Hyatt, improperly disposing of the turkey by tossing its carcass out of a vehicle window onto the roadside.

The bear beginning

According to court papers and Officer Hyatt, Green shot the bear a stone’s throw off N.C. 107 on Slab Town Road near the busy Cashiers’ crossroads. Upset by the death of this favorite neighborhood visitor, someone aware of and unhappy about the bear’s slaying tipped the state agency.

Hyatt said he suspects some of Slab Town’s residents were feeding the bear, causing it to lose its healthy, natural fear of humans. Though he’s sympathetic regarding the neighborhood’s loss, Hyatt said the situation served as yet another reminder to not feed wildlife — for the bear’s own good.

After shooting the bear, Green let it lie on the side of the road for a day, Hyatt said, then called a friend, Steve Crawford of the Pine Creek community, and asked for help moving it.

“The deal was Mr. Crawford would keep the meat, Mr. Green the bear hide,” Hyatt said, adding that the bear meat actually had spoiled because the animal was left in the heat for too long.

Crawford ended up being charged with possessing and transporting an illegally taken black bear.

As the investigation blossomed, Hyatt said he charged Green with, among a variety of other charges, night deer hunting and taking a turkey out of season.

Additionally, Marlena Carlton of Cashiers was charged in the night deer-hunting incident, Hyatt said.

“It turned into a big case,” the wildlife officer said in a bit of an understatement.

Report poaching

The N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission is actively seeking the public’s help. Call in wildlife violations for investigations at 800.662.7137 or, if in Jackson County, call Wildlife Officer Brent Hyatt directly at 828.293.3417.

N.C. Rep. Phil Haire’s decision not to run for re-election after 14 years in office opens the door for a possible free-for-all of both Democratic and Republican candidates seeking the suddenly available House seat.

Tuesday’s news spread like an out-of-control wildfire through Western North Carolina’s political grapevine. Top leaders in both parties will clearly be paying close attention to this now vacant seat — a seat Haire had easily secured year after year for the Democratic Party but could now be in flux.

“This is not a good sign for Democrats,” said Chris Cooper, a political science professor at Western Carolina University. Incumbent Democrats tend to hold on. But when their seats come open, then those seats are much more likely to go Republican.”

Taking control of Haire’s seat won’t be easy, however. Democrats outnumber Republicans in the district — which is made up of Waynesville and Lake Junaluska in Haywood County, Jackson County and Swain County.

But a possible pile-on by Democrat candidates could weakend their position going in to the general election in the fall, Cooper said.

“If they have too many eggs in a basket, they will shoot themselves in the foot. The best thing for the Democratic Party is to figure out who the best candidate really is,” Cooper said.

Any Democrat with state political aspirations might figure this could be their one shot at holding office. Haire had proved immovable from the seat until he opted to step down.

For his part, Haire said there’s not an “heir” apparent.

“I am not going to speculate because I am sure there are going to be several people in the primary,” the state representative said, adding that he won’t endorse anyone.

“I am not going out on that limb,” Haire said.

Haire plans to wait and see who wins the primary, then support that candidate in the general election. The Democrat’s primary winner had better be a strong candidate and be girded for a fight, Haire said.

“Since it is a vacant seat, the Republicans will make a shot at it,” Haire said. “I guarantee you Republicans will make a good strong effort to take it.”

It could be the GOP’s one shot, too. For Republican Party leaders, the news that a veteran incumbent Democrat would be retiring came as a belated, but happily received, Christmas present.

Ralph Slaughter, chairman of the Jackson County Republican Party, was clearly pleased with GOP prospects of seizing the district. During the last election, Haire had to fight off an unexpectedly strong attempt by Sylva Republican candidate Dodie Allen, giving Republicans added hope this time around.

Allen, a Sylva auctioneer, ran a grassroots campaign. She narrowly beat Haire in Haywood County and ended up garnering 44 percent of the vote district-wide.

One Republican candidate immediately emerged Tuesday following Haire’s announcement. Mike Clampitt of Bryson City said he’d run for the now-vacant seat.

“I believe that North Carolina is at a crossroads, and that we must bring conservative common-sense leadership to the state,” Clampitt said in a news release issued Tuesday.

But one veteran Republican struck a cautionary note on the prospect of wresting Haire’s vacated seat away from the Democrats.

“It is a good strong Democratic district,” said N.C. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, who has served with Haire in Raleigh for more than a decade. West said bluntly that he doesn’t see Republicans being able to capture Haire’s seat given the district’s leanings.

In the Democratic field, one name being circulated is former Judge Danny Davis of Waynesville. Davis said that he’d barely had a chance to process the news Tuesday that Haire wouldn’t run before his phone started ringing from people wanting to know if he would.

“I am interested in it. I am not ready to commit just yet, but I am always interested in serving,” Davis said, adding that “Phil has done a great job and I hate to see him go.”

Davis said he had contemplated running for Haire’s seat whenever Haire retired — he just didn’t think it would be this soon.

N.C. Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, is probably one of the most observant watchers of the rapidly unfolding political changes in the far-western counties. Rapp’s legislative district borders Haire’s to the north. As neighboring representatives Rapp and Haire often worked together. This is a political necessity for getting anything accomplished for this slice of the state. After all, there are more state representatives from the Charlotte area alone than in all of WNC, from Murphy to Boone.

Rapp hopes that the winner of Haire’s vacated seat will be a go-to partner in the legislature, and for this reason, he isn’t about to support one candidate over another just yet.

“There are a number of qualified people who could step up and do a fine job of serving in the WNC legislature and I look forward to working with whomever the district chooses for its eventual representative,” Rapp said.

N.C. Rep. Phil Haire, D-Sylva, will retire from the state legislature this year after 14 years in office.

Haire will be 76 next year and said that he realized it’s time to trade in the long drives back and forth to Raleigh for some quality time with his grandchildren.

“I am in great health and everything but you don’t want to push the edge of the envelope too hard,” Haire said, citing the 300-mile haul to Raleigh.

Plus, he really wants to go to Alaska.

“I have never been to Alaska. I could never go because the time to go is in the summer and I am always tied up in the summer,” Haire said.

Although Haire said he has known for some time that this would be his last year in Raleigh, he kept the news of his retirement surprisingly close to his vest. Besides him, only his wife knew, Haire said.

“I didn’t want to say anything until now. The cat is out of the bag today,” Haire said Tuesday morning.

SEE ALSO: Who will Haire's heir be?

After Haire made the announcement, word was spread primarily by newspaper reporters, who broke the news to everyone from political analysts to party leaders in the process of calling people to get their thoughts and comments.

Among those who learned this way was Rep. Ray Rapp, D-Mars Hill, who served closely in the legislature with Haire — both as fellow Democrats and as representatives of neighboring legislative districts. Rapp met the news with “a great deal of sadness.”

“I am surprised that Rep. Haire will not be returning to Raleigh and more than a little disappointed,” Rapp said. “I think he has brought a very sharp mind and has been a strong advocate for Western North Carolina over these 14 years. So I can tell you his knowledge and his experience will be sorrowfully missed.”

N.C. Rep. Roger West, R-Marble, served with Haire for 12 of his 14 years in office, representing the counties that neighbored Haire to the south.

Despite being from the opposing political party, West only had good things to say about Haire. They disagreed philosophically on issues at the state level, but when it came to local issues important to the mountains they nearly always worked together, West said.

“Haire was a good legislator. He looked after the people in his district. I enjoyed working with Phil. I can’t say anything bad about him at all. We’ll miss him,” West said.

The two even carpooled to Raleigh occasionally or caught a plane together in Asheville. And besides, Haire’s son is married to West’s niece.

Janie Benson, chairman of the Haywood County Democratic Party, said Haire would be hard to replace.

“I think Phil has represented his district well, and stayed in touch with the people,” Benson said.

Looking back at 14 years of state office, Haire said one of his crowning accomplishments was the Safe Surrender Law, which allows a mother of a newborn baby to turn it over to a responsible party, such as a hospital or police department, and walk away without penalty. Haire fought for the law after a young mother in his district placed her newborn baby in a trashcan. The baby died and the mother went to jail. Haire realized a bill was needed making it legal to safely surrender the newborn without a parent being punished for abandonment.

Haire was also one of the leading advocates of the Clean Smokestacks Acts, and consistently received high rankings from conservation groups for his pro-environment voting record.

But it’s the little things that truly defined Haire’s career, the incremental measures he fought for every day, from funding for the N.C. Center for the Advancement of Teaching in Cullowhee to a highway appropriation for a second entrance to Tuscola High School.

“He’s been really dedicated about working hard for this area,” said former N.C. Sen. John Snow of Murphy, Haire’s counterpart in the state Senate for several years. “He dedicated 14 years to public service, and that’s no small thing.”

The number of people applying for library cards in Jackson County has doubled since the new library opened this summer.

Jackson’s striking increase in library use in part is a testament to just how low use was before. A dismally undersized library, limited programs and a small collection led to abnormally low per capita use at its former location. In fact, Jackson had the lowest circulation per capita and fewer library card holders per capita compared to surrounding counties — and was well under the state average in those benchmark areas.

When planning for a new library began in earnest four years ago, librarians cautioned the county not to put too much stock in the number of past library users as a yardstick for how big the future library should be. New libraries are like self-fulfilling prophecies, with more users suddenly crawling out of the woodworks as soon as its doors open.

So while it’s no surprise that library use has gone up, no one anticipated it would go up by as much as it has.

Jackson’s has gone up by much more than other counties that have recently built new libraries.

• After building new libraries, Macon County saw only a 15 percent increase in the number of people applying for new library cards, Polk saw 12 percent increase and Transylvania County saw 58 percent — nothing close to the 100 percent increase in Jackson.

• Jackson’s new library has increased by 38 percent in circulation of materials. Compared to Macon’s circulation increase of 17 percent, Transylvania’s by 27 percent and Polk’s by 20 percent.

And, with 28 public computers, computer use is up an amazing 154 percent.

A counter on the front door is also logging a huge increase in the number of library visits. For that stat, Jackson County Head Librarian Dottie Brunette said that it isn’t just people living in Jackson County driving the higher numbers, however, though they obviously are beating a track into the library.

“Daily, we get people in just to look at it,” Brunette said.


Insanely popular

The new Jackson County library in Sylva has seen skyrocketing use since it opened this summer. These numbers tell the tale, comparing use between July and November of this year at the new library compared to the same five months of last year in the old library.

                                         Old    New

Items checked out    34,735    48,112

Computer sessions    5,501    14,196

Special programs        78    382

Page 64 of 106

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