A Community Perspective on Development in the High Country
We here in the High Country place a high premium on being able to do with our land what we want. The same would be true in most parts of this nation. At Sundance Mountain Lands, we believe that the time has come for us as citizens of this area to look at how our actions affect others. This article addresses one of the actions of landowners that affects residents of and visitors to the High Country.
Most of us learned as pre-schoolers to pay attention to how our actions affect others. We need to think about that when we as individuals or as developers plan roads or structures. What will be the impact of a particular development or structure on the neighboring properties, on the beautiful vistas we have here and on the environment?
The condo structure that came to be known as Sugartop precipitated an area-wide outcry at the visual pollution or offense that it created for all who gazed in the direction of Sugar Mountain – literally visible for 100 miles. That was 1980, and it led eventually to North Carolina’s “Ridge Law”. In essence it states that no structure on a mountain top or ridge line can rise more than 40 feet above the crest, subject to interpretation by each county.
What we have now is a situation in which condominium structures and very large houses are being built on ridges and high mountain slopes. They are proliferating and steadily detracting from the vistas for all of us who live here or travel here. These structures may technically comply with the law, but they significantly affect the ambiance of our area. The motive of providing spectacular views from prime ridge-line locales is not balanced with how this looks from below or from another mountainside.
It is perfectly possible to provide spectacular views and not mar the view for others. Some suggestions:
1.Leave many of the trees, so that the building or buildings are nestled in the trees, rather than the trees being replaced by buildings. Views can be enhanced by cutting windows through the trees, rather than cutting them down.
2.Build slightly off the ridge line on top, creating less structure protruding above the ridge line, when seen from afar.
3. At the upper reaches of a ridge, build structures with less vertical dimension.
- Even better, a private land owner or developer could:
- 4. Keep the mountain top and ridge lines as green space. Where appropriate, the owner could donate a conservation easement to a land trust or conservancy or a government agency and reap significant tax benefits, while contributing to Preserving the High Country, its vistas and its environment. An example of how this is working beautifully are the existing and planned easements arranged between Sunalei Preserve and the High Country Conservancy. The spectacular forested mountaintop of Snake Mountain, rising above US 421 on one side and Meat Camp on the other, is permanently protected. No McMansions, no condos atop the ridge or on the higher slopes. Another good example is Tynecastle, where lots of trees have been preserved and nothing has been built on Hawks Peak. Residents walk up to the top, rather than build their houses there.
- Respectful land use is, in the long run, economically better for the area. That is obvious. It is also far better for the environment. Ridges, mountain tops and upper flanks tend to provide habitat for species that do not thrive where intense human presence impinges – bear, the Peregrine and other hawks, non-domestic cats, mosses, sand myrtle, exotic bats, spruce, fir, etc., etc. Some of these only live at higher altitudes.
- What may not be so obvious is that even in the short term, such as the first five years in the life of a development, when most of the lots are sold and most of the profit made for the investors, such wiser, greener vista-preserving land use reaps economic benefits. Many more buyers are now looking for primary and second homes that are integrated with the environment. The “greener” a property is and the more harmony it has with the community, the more market appeal it will have.
- The “Green Movement” is here. Its time is now. We cannot afford to wait and see whether the populace will eventually want new state or county government laws or regulations to address these issues. Times are rapidly changing and, despite the housing downturn, development is proceeding vigorously. We need to see development, including the construction of individual homes, with new eyes – eyes informed by the old-fashioned concern for how our actions affect the world around us.