The Carolina Connection
Floridians are buying up homes in North Carolina -- and Florida builders are hot on their heels. But the Sunshine State's brand of development is creating tension in the hills.
Go sell it on the mountain:
Ginn’s 6,000-acre Laurelmor golf community will span two counties in western North Carolina. The central Florida-based developer flew potential buyers over the property in a mountaintop party last November. In one day, buyers snapped up 240 lots priced from $450,000 to $1.2 million. [Photo: Steve McBride]
For a quarter-century, each July, University of Florida Foundation officials have packed up orange and blue banners, balloons, Gator cups and other UF paraphernalia and driven eight hours to throw a party at the favorite summer getaway spot of some of the university’s most generous donors: Western North Carolina.
So many Floridians now sojourn in the area that in recent years UF officials have had to split the mountaintop bash into two parties over two nights. To treat the Carolina crowd to an evening of “bluegrass, barbeque and Bernie,” President Bernie Machen has to spend one night in Highlands and the next across the mountains in Linville.
“It’s grown so much, we’ve really maxed out the seating,” says Carter Boydstun, senior associate vice president for development at the UF Foundation. “Every summer, we have a lot more names to add to the invitation list.”
|A large number of North Carolina's new residents are ex-Floridians.
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And Florida home builders are following their customers north. Seeking to diversify operations as they ride out Florida’s housing downturn, the builders are buying up mountaintops and developing them by the thousands of acres.
But they are betting on an uncertain boom. For in these cloud-laced mountains, Florida history is repeating itself in a dozen different ways. In some areas, speculators have lost money on development deals that proved too good to be true. In others, rising land values and taxes are leading locals, such as artisans and farmers, to sell out and move on, homogenizing the mountain culture as Christmas tree crops become rooftops. Across the region, lack of development regulation has led to environmental problems, from groundwater scarcity to soil erosion.
“People move to western North Carolina communities because they think these small towns are so quaint, and then they perch a 5,000-sq.-ft. house on the side of the mountain,” says Robin Cape, an Asheville city councilwoman first exposed to western North Carolina on many summer trips from Tampa with her grandparents.
“I wish people could remember that they’re not in Miami anymore.”
“People move to western North Carolina communities because they think these small towns are so quaint, and then they perch a 5,000-sq.-ft. house on the side of the mountain.” — Robin Cape, Asheville city councilwoman
[Photo: Kelly LaDuke]