Sunday, January 18, 2009

Multi-Million Dollar Landslide Property Loss in Mountain Air

Undated photograph of Hemlock Bluff C-1. The building which houses this unit was the issue of one of the lawsuits.

Photograph of A-1 of the Austin
View Villa condominiums. This structure is one of a 5- unit cluster, with each building containing four residences. Buildings C and D of the complex were the issue of one of the lawsuits. Photographs of the landslide-damaged buildings are not available.

Mountain Air Resort-Austin View and Hemlock Bluff-condominium buildings severely damaged by slow moving landslide in 2003-2004. (Yancey County, North Carolina)

Description of the Austin View Villas Condominiums Landslide Property Damage

Court documents reveal:
…in 2003 the foundations of two buildings of the five unit Austin View Villas began cracking and in late 2004 the foundations of the Units began and/or continued moving and “sliding” on the side of the mountain upon which the Units had been constructed, causing the foundations, wall structures, floors, and other components of the Units to crack and to deteriorate substantially. As a consequence, the Units became-and remain-completely uninhabitable and the Intervenor Plaintiffs have been deprived entirely of the use and enjoyment of their Units since January 2005.
Current tax records show the value of each unit to be $640,000. A conservative estimate of the landslide damage is over $5 million. Mountain Air Development Corporation owned Unit D-1. For a copy of the lawsuit ( 07 CVS 19), please visit

Description of the Hemlock Bluffs Condominium Landslide Property Damage

During the summer of 2004, Building C, one of the Hemlock Bluffs condominium units began shifting on its slope site. This building is part of the Hemlock Bluff Condominium Association, Inc. According to court documents:
Hemlock has been severely damaged, including separating of the decks from the buildings, cracking in foundation and supports, movement of stairs and walls, and otherwise and Plaintiff has spent and will spend substantial sums of money for the extraordinary repairs and reconstruction of the buildings and major portions of the common elements at Hemlock.
The complaint, Hemlock Bluff Villas Condominium Association Inc. vs. Mountain Air Development Corporation et al (06 CVS 51), was settled out of court.

Mountain Air Landslide Hazards Stay Hidden

On June 20, 2007 the Mountain Air Development Corporation placed a half page advertisement in the real estate section of the Wall Street Journal to introduce property in their newest neighborhood community:
Settlers Edge offers unbelievable views... the Settlers Edge opportunity is very limited... just 16 spectacular home sites... 11 mountaintop estate homes, and 38 condominium homes.
Readers of this promotion or visitors to the company’s website will not find any hint that Mountain Air’s topography is geologically hazardous.

Mountain Air marketing materials, be they print or web, have serious omissions: They fail to warn that landslides and unstable soils impair building sites throughout the subdivision and that insurance coverage for this hazard is not available. Engineering reports submitted indicate that 5 feet of colluvial soils at the sites' surface were contributing factors to the slope failures.

Mountain Air Resort is a private gated community. Plaintiffs chose not to publicize their property losses and as a result these costly landslide events were never covered by the media. Copies of legal documents were mailed to the editors of the Charlotte Observer and The News and Observer in the summer of 2007: they declined to publish the story.

The information in these lawsuits is newsworthy and not a private affair. Mountain Air Development Corporation has a legal obligation to disclose material facts: so far they have failed. The question is how can investors make informed decisions about buying real estate in Mountain Air or in other Western North Carolina mountain subdivision if geologic hazards and property losses remain well-kept secrets?


Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

While it is true that Mountain Air contains deposits of coluvial soils, there are several things in the above blog that are wrong. The Hemlock Bluffs failure did not contain coluvial soils but was caused by regarding of the steepening of the slope below the building. The only damage done to the unit was the loss of the deck supports. The building foundation was exposed in one section by the ensuing scarp but did not settle. Most of the land slides covered in this site contain inaccuracies rooted in emotional responses rather than science.