“Our cost of doing business has gone way up, but there’s still people who want this product,” Elliott Harwell of Cornelius-based Waterfront told Jackson County commissioners this month. “This is not something we’re looking to do overnight. It’s going to take time. And we don’t want to oversupply the demand, but we do feel that there are still people that want this type of product.”
The product he is referring to is high-end housing in the mountains where homeowners can relax in a wooded property surrounded by a 700-acre conservation easement while still carrying on business using the Internet. The original plan was a good one, Harwell said, and the new ownership wants to keep much of it intact. But not all of it.
The Carlton family, the previous owners of the property, had held the Chinquapin land since the 1970s, putting 700 acres of it into a conservation easement in 2005 and starting the process of conveying it to Trillium Links & Village for development in 2006.
Then, the recession hit.
“Those folks who had planned to relocate there decided to keep that money in the bank,” said Commissioner Mark Jones of Cashiers.
Trillium couldn’t finish the development, and the Carlton family took ownership of the 2,000 acres once more, hashing out a 2012 development agreement with the county but making little headway on realizing its plans since then.
“It was developed about just in time for the economy to crash,” Harwell said. “The former developer didn’t do anything wrong. It was just bad timing.”
The market’s picking up a bit more now, but Waterfront wants to deviate from the original plan to build only large, estate-style homes.
“The market trend has gone from larger, huge houses with yards to maintain to (what) we were wanting to offer — a product with smaller, less maintenance on the homeowner, just a different product within the same community,” Harwell said.
To that end, the proposed development plan includes 172 cluster homes, a type of development in which homes on small lots are surrounded by preserved land. It’s a sought-after option for people who like the setting but don’t want the upkeep and cost of a larger property, Harwell said.
All told, the Chinquapin property encompasses 2,000 acres — a little over 3 square miles. Of that, 700 acres are set aside as a conservation easement that can’t be built on. The proposed master plan would keep another 204 acres as green space — the same number determined in the 2012 development agreement — building on the remaining 1,100 or so acres.
When Chinquapin originally struck its deal with the county in 2012, no zoning rules laid out regulations for subdivision development. Those rules came later, and Chinquapin is grandfathered into the pre-ordinance era. However, the development does have to abide by the original development agreement it made with the county and get any changes approved by commissioners. And before commissioners can approve any changes, they have to get input from a public hearing.
When commissioners spoke with Harwell in November, their impression seemed to be favorable, if a bit surprised at Waterfront’s optimistic projections.
“You’re taking a big chance, or they (Waterfront) know something about this future economy that has not been shared with me,” said Commissioner Vicki Greene.
To which Harwell mentioned another development Waterfront did in Banner Elk, where he said $30 million of property has been sold in the last three years.
“When we bought it in 2012, people said the same thing,” he said.
At this point, commissioners seem to feel good about Waterfront’s proposal.
“If you see the site, you’ll know how well it’s taken care of, how wide the roads are,” Jones said. “It really is a first-class operation.”
Commission Chairman Brian McMahan took that sentiment a step further.
“These folks have demonstrated to me that they are going to be very responsible,” he said. “I don’t see any reason why we wouldn’t want to approve this.”
Contrasting the two agreements
The original 2012 agreement
- 200 estate lots with a minimum 1-acre lot size
- 700 acres set aside for a conservation easement that allows limited development for outdoor recreation amenities
- 204 acres set aside for green space
- Amenities, including a 150-acre golf course
The proposed new agreement
- 228 estate lots, including the 80 already platted
- 172 cluster homes, which are typically built on smaller lots while preserving the land around them
- 904 acres for greenspace, including the original 700-acre conservation easement and more than 200 acres of green space
- The golf course, which hasn’t been played or maintained in years, will be repurposed as cluster development surrounded by green space
What: Before commissioners vote on whether to let the new owners of the 2,000-acre Chinquapin property near Cashiers increase the capacity of their planned development by 200 units, bringing the total to 400 units, Jackson County residents will have a chance to give their input in a public hearing.
When: 10:30 a.m. Thursday, Dec. 10.
Where: Albert Carlton-Cashiers Community Library on 249 Frank Allen Road in Cashiers.