Trine circled the subdivision, pointing out homes that by nearly any standard were attractive. They were well-spaced and well-landscaped. They sported earth tones that blended into the woods, featured Appalachian architecture and were surrounded by intact forest, minus a few well-trimmed branches for a view.
But under a slate of proposed development regulations in Jackson County, the development as it stood would fail miserably. The homes were either too close to streams or along roads that weren’t wide enough. Even houses that were invisible to their closest neighbor would be on lots that are too small.
“What’s wrong with these? Can someone please tell me what’s wrong with this?” Trine said, gesturing to the homes out the window.
Trine, a Realtor and developer in Cashiers, thinks he knows the answer. The real impetus behind the regulations is a revolt against the wealthy outsiders buying luxury homes, he said.
“But that’s not who they are going to kill. They are going to kill the local working people,” Trine said. “The million dollar people are going to go somewhere else. They can go sit on a mountain top somewhere else.”
While gated communities have borne the brunt of criticism in a debate over development regulations — targeted as the quintessential symbol of new wealth moving in, buying up the mountains and locking the rest out — it’s really the other side that wants to lock up the mountains for their own use. They want to keep the mountains to themselves and stop new people from moving here, said Marty Jones, a Realtor in Cashiers.
“It may not even be a conscious effort, but there is an underlying movement to stop development, not just control it. The rhetoric is too many homes, too many people, too many cars,” Jones said.
And it’s not just happening in Jackson County, Trine said.
“There is an anti-development climate running rampant through the entire nation,” Trine said. “It’s human nature to say ‘I’ve got mine. I don’t want you to get yours. I look at that mountain over there and I don’t want to see a house on it.’”
Indeed, not wanting to see houses on the mountainsides was the lead complaint among supporters of strict regulations who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed regulations this week.
In Folly Beach, S.C., where Trine owns a beach house, the same thing is going on. Just about the time Jackson County imposed a development moratorium here, the city council there did also. You could swap the Jackson County commissioners with the Folly Beach city council and they could carry on without missing a beat, Trine said.
“They don’t want people buying here anymore. They don’t want people coming here anymore,” Trine said. “They want to stop growth.”
Slow equals good
And your point is? That’s the response of Bill Lyons, a retired resident of Jackson County who thinks the proposed regulations should be even more protective. Slowing down growth — not necessarily stopping it, but slowing it down — is not a bad thing. But that doesn’t mean he and those like him should be labeled an “I’ve got mine-er,” Lyons said.
“People who have moved here see the problems that excess development is causing other places,” Lyons said. “If you allow the proliferation of subdivisions and homes on areas that should not have development, you cannot undo that.”
Ron Arps, a Jackson County resident who sat in on the weekly planning board meetings religiously for the past four months to observe the ordinances being drafted, also asked what’s wrong with slowing down growth. A development boom, like a gold rush, is not a healthy economic model. If the regulations slow the tide, growth will be gradual and sustainable, he said.
“I think that’s a good thing. It allows a longer time period for the development that will take place,” Arps said. “People who live here will have jobs longer and we can stop bringing in workers from elsewhere.”
Arps said he doesn’t want to stop others from moving here altogether. He moved here, and thinks others have the right to as well — but “within limits.” Arps said he doesn’t want 40 homes on the mountain behind him, but a few would be OK.
“We are amenable to other people moving in as long as it doesn’t overwhelm the county and we can maintain the beauty and natural integrity of the mountains,” Arps said. “I came here and love it here, but I just don’t want hordes of people moving in next door.”
Lyons is among those who doesn’t want to look up and see houses stacked on the mountainsides.
“What’s wrong with that? That is a philosophical question,” Lyons said.
Jim Sellers, a Jackson County native, lives in the same house he grew up in above Scotts Creek with a view of the Balsams — what’s now Balsam Mountain Preserve.
“I lived on that growing up,” Sellers said, pointing to the distant mountains. “We fished, camped, hunted. It’s posted now.”
The change has come fast, he said.
“About 10 years ago, I noticed it start creeping up these creeks,” Sellers said of the development.
Sellers doesn’t like seeing houses on the mountainsides either.
“I think the local population doesn’t want to see this wholesale building on the mountains,” Sellers said.
But it’s not just aesthetics, he said.
“If we don’t have rain on this mountain back here seeping down to our wells, we’ll be in trouble. That’s what we’re going to drink. With all the roads and houses and roofs, it’ll run off,” Sellers said. “We aren’t going to stop development, but it needs to be in a way we are going to protect our natural resources.”
Smoke and mirrors
Trine contends, however, that the rhetoric about groundwater recharge, slope stability, water quality, wildlife coordidors and the like is a thinly veiled guise. The regulations are so strict they will stop development, and that’s the whole point, he said. Trine said he once subscribed to that mentality. Before he moved to Cashiers 26 years ago, he lived in Florida. He was heavily involved in a community beach association that aimed to limit houses along the shore.
“I’ll admit why I did it. I wanted to walk on the beach and have it to myself,” Trine said.
Trine said the county is shooting itself in the foot by revolting against the wealthy second-home owners. Jackson has a low property tax rate compared to most counties. That’s because of wealthy homeowners paying into the system, Trine said. Meanwhile, they take little from the county — no kids in school and no social services, for example.
“The reason the taxes are so low in Jackson County are these people,” Trine said, gesturing to million-dollar homes out the window of his truck on a recent tour of subdivisions in Cashiers. But it’s human nature to resent people with money.
“To some extent that’s true,” conceded Lyons. “The disparity between the haves and the have-nots or have-less has increased dramatically.”
But those supporting the regulations claim that’s not the motivation.
“Sustainability. That’s what the ordinance is for,” said Dr. James Foust, a Jackson County retiree.
Others don’t have a right to build so many houses today there’s no room left for future generations. Others don’t have a right to carve up mountainsides so they pollute the streams of those below. Others don’t have the right to ruin everyone’s view with a house on a ridge.
“They want to discuss the right of the person with the dollar to buy whatever they want without regard to what it does to everyone else,” Lyons said. “Government exists primarily to equalize those forces.”
But to Trine, the regulations are socialist and un-American.
Marty Jones, the Cashiers Realtor, agreed. For instance, the ordinances say property along creeks must be placed into communal ownership and held collectively by a homeowner’s association of the subdivision. Private property lines can’t come within 30 feet of a creek.
“That’s some sort of social statement,” Jones said. “That is ridiculous.”
Those opposed to the moratorium and the proposed regulations have been accused of simply not wanting regulations at all. But Jones said that’s not true.
“We want something reasonable,” Jones said. “There is merit in reasonable.”
Trine said the same thing.
“To be without regulations, that’s ridiculous,” Trine said. “But to go from zero to the strictest county in the state doesn’t make sense. Shouldn’t you go in stages?”