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Future unclear for planned Cullowhee development

Earlier this year, it looked like Monarch Ventures, a Charlotte-based company that’s been trying for years to build a high-density 500-bed student housing complex in Cullowhee, could be history.

The company’s two co-owners were entwined in a lawsuit in North Carolina Business Court, and the dispute was poised to result in the company’s dissolution. Meanwhile, the deadline to post a bond for the erosion permit they’d applied for in April 2014 drew closer and closer. There seemed to be a real possibility the development would not be built. 

Now the future is a little murkier. 

Monarch completed the requirements for its erosion control permit — including posting a $21,000 cash bond — on April 10, just five days before the permit would have expired. They’re now authorized to break ground, and the county has received building plans for the development, said Tony Elders, code enforcement director for Jackson County. Monarch has another year to finish the land development compliance permit they’ll need to start construction. 

“The representative also told me they were interested in trying to get the project up and going and ready for fall of 2016,” added Jackson County Manager Chuck Wooten. 

But the company has been having trouble paying the note on the 11-acre property. On March 3, the lender — Agarwal Family III, LLC — began foreclosure proceedings against Monarch. The parcel went on sale April 2, and when the bidding period closed April 13, the Agarwal Family was the only party to bid on it, purchasing the property for $2.17 million, according to court documents. The sale is in the final stages of becoming official. 

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But it’s been representatives of Monarch, not the Agarwal Family, that county staff has been dealing with. And those conversations have borne no hint of plans to transfer ownership of the property or cease development. 

Shannon King and Martha Thomly, the Monarch co-owners involved in the dispute — which is still working toward total dissolution of the company — did not respond to requests for comment. Nor did the attorney handling the finances of the company’s dissolution, Andy Barbee. James Oliver, attorney for the Agarwal Family, declined to comment on his client’s plans for the land. 

However, Elders said, the permits are transferrable. If ownership were to pass from Monarch to some other entity, the new owner could pick up with the development process where Monarch left off. 

That’s a key point, because a newly filed permit would have to contend with more restrictions than those imposed on the planned Monarch development. When the county passed its revised subdivision ordinance, Monarch got its permit in just days before the final vote. Thus, they’re grandfathered in and not obligated to comply with the new requirements for stormwater management, open space, parking, landscaping and sidewalks. 

They also won’t have to contend with any portion of the proposed Cullowhee Community Planning Standards that county commissioners adopt. After a two-year process of meetings and revisions culminating with a final public hearing last week, commissioners will likely vote on the standards May 21. 

“I think it will have significant impact on the community,” Jackson County Planner Gerald Green said of Monarch’s planned development. “How we are able to address that given they don’t have to comply with many standards will be challenging. I think the long-term cost to the community will be substantial.”

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