Wednesday, December 17, 2008

The Cliffs at High Carolina Property Report

Red, orange and yellow color-coding show unstable to marginally unstable areas on this Buncombe County landslide susceptibility map.

History of The Cliffs at High Carolina

In June of 2006 The Cliffs Communities Inc. received approval from the Buncombe County Planning Department to begin construction in their 1,284 acre, 592-lot subdivision called The Cliffs at High Carolina. The project has grown considerably since the initial application. High Carolina, the largest land development in the county, now covers 3,200 acres. Approximately 10% of the tract will remain natural open space, the balance of the land is dedicated to the Tiger Woods golf course, 1,300 home sites, and various recreational facilities.

The Cliffs Communities, Inc. initiated sales for High Carolina lots on November 8, 2008. Jim Anthony, President and CEO of The Cliffs Communities, Inc. told the press that approximately 50 lots had been sold for a total of more than $40 million.

The individuals who purchased lots were given Property Reports as required by federal law under the Interstate Land Sales Full Disclosure Act.

The Risks of Buying Land in The Cliffs at High Carolina Subdivision

The High Carolina Property Report was dated October 21, 2008 and signed by Lucas T. Anthony, President of The Cliffs at High Carolina LLC. Mr. Anthony stated that the information contained in this Property Report is an accurate description of our subdivision and development plans. The document opens with the required statement “The Risks of Buying Land.” The following was extracted from the Report:
The future value of any land is uncertain and dependent upon many factors. DO NOT expect all land to increase in value.

Any subdivision will have an impact on the surrounding environment. Whether or not the impact is adverse and the degree of impact will depend on the location, size, planning, and the extent of the development. Subdivisions which adversely affect the environment may cause government agencies to impose restrictions on the use of the land. Changes in plant and animal life, air and water quality, and noise levels may affect your use and enjoyment of your lot and your ability to sell it.
What Wasn’t Stated in the Property Report

By happenstance or choice High Carolina land sales were held in November when air quality meets EPA standards. Mr. Anthony is aware that during warm weather months smog clouds visibility and impairs lung function. The situation is critical: On January 30, 2006 Attorney General Roy Cooper filed a lawsuit on behalf of the citizens of North Carolina against the Tennessee Valley Authority. In his press release Mr. Cooper stated that “TVA’s pollution is making North Carolinians sick, damaging our economy and harming our environment.”

On August 4, 2008 the Asheville Citizen-Times reported that the North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources had issued a public health air quality alert for mountain areas near Asheville. ( “Air quality unhealthy at high elevations” ) Pollution warnings are common during summer months when elevated temperatures trap the ozone-laden air over the mountain region. Air quality in Western North Carolina is not expected to improve in the near future.

The Cliffs at High Carolina Encumbrances, Mortgages, and Liens

The Property Report states that:
There are blanket encumbrances, mortgages or liens on some of the lots included in this offering. Those are: (1) a Deed of Trust by and between Longview Land Company, LLC ("Borrower"), Steve I. Goldstein ("Trustee") and Strauss Family Limited Partnership ("Lender"); (2) a Deed of Trust between The Cliffs at High Carolina, LLC ("Borrower") and Julie El Abiyad ("Trustee") and Capital Bank ("Lender") such Deeds of Trusts covering the lots as shown in the Listing of Lots on page 26 below.
The Cliffs at High Carolina Hazards

Developers are required to make known all hazards located in the subdivision. The High Carolina Property Report Hazards section reveals that:
The lots covered by this Property Report are located in Buncombe County, which is in an area geologists refer to as the Blue Ridge Geologic Province of North Carolina. As with all developments located in this Province, the terrain contains some moderate and steep slopes and may contain localized areas subject to the natural hazard of landslides. However, according to Buncombe County’s Hazard Mitigation Plan dated August 23, 2004, while the likelihood of an occurrence of a landslide is quite high, any such event would have a negligible impact on a small area of the County.

Historic data was the determinate in accessing the impact of landslides in Buncombe County. Certainly after the catastrophic multi-county landslides of September 2004 Hazard Mitigation Planners would have found that landslides pose a significant threat to major portions of the county. Buncombe County, along with 18 other at-risk counties, are to be surveyed for these highly probable events.

The Cliffs at High Carolina Property Report Hazards section continues with the following:
In its development activities, the developer has followed the Hillside Development Standards Ordinance of Buncombe County in developing roads, infrastructure, and lots and the identifiable building sites thereon.
Buncombe County Hillside Development Standards Ordinance

County Commissioners enacted the Hillside Development Ordinance in March 2006. It should be noted that the High Carolina Property Report fails to mention that this ordinance has been highly criticized. In January 2007 the Buncombe County Environmental Advisory Board issued an admonishment to the Board of Commissioners regarding the absence of Ridge Top/Steep Slope Development regulation. The Board found that:
A clearly defined, comprehensive, countywide plan is needed to adequately manage RT/SS development in Buncombe County. The costs associated with a comprehensive strategy to protect these irreplaceable assets and to protect the health and safety of our citizens is minimal compared to the costs of doing nothing further. The present condition of allowing increasing waves of unregulated (or loosely regulated) haphazard growth to occur along our mountain ridges and steep slopes has become an untenable position.
For further information regarding geologic hazards please see "Questions Concerning The Cliffs at High Carolina Property Report."

The federally mandated Property Report is intended to warn prospective buyers of the financial risks of purchasing land in yet-to-be developed subdivisions. When projects, such as the Cliffs at High Carolina, are permitted in geologically hazardous unmapped areas, the risks are magnified.

Copies of The Cliffs at High Carolina Property Report are available through the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development.

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