Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Andie MacDowell Appreciates Your Generosity

No point in subtlety here. I gave up this racket a few years ago in part because I was tired of beating my head against a brick wall, trying to issue warnings about the ills of rampant development in the mountains. Sure, people did read the stuff I posted, but in the end it was titillation, almost nothing more. (I say "almost" because I do have the head of a disbarred attorney hanging on the wall of my den, brought down in small part thanks to some incriminating photos posted on this blog.)

I meant to do the research that the paid journalists wouldn't do, to raise questions about the luxury developers who were on their way to leading this nation into financial collapse. This was back in the boom times, pre-2008, if you can recall such a thing. 

Anyhow, I pulled out all the stops to get the point across, to get the FACTS out. And while professional journalists have to act like there's no such thing as absurdity in the world, I recognized that it was impossible to discuss the luxury resort communities without acknowledging the absurdity of it all.

Hence, we saw how the residents of one luxury community held a bake sale to pay off a multi-million dollar debt.

And we learned how the rattlesnakes that proliferated in that same community were equipped with radio transmitters, so their comings and goings could be tracked.

And a wild ride in a BIG GREEN HUMMER proved that environmentalism and luxury lifestyles need not be mutually exclusive.

Anyhow, I saw where Forbes magazine, one of the bibles of the moneyed crowd posted an article today about the conservation easement shenanigans at one Balsam Mountain Preserve.   Like I hadn't already brought up the questionable nature of their "conservation easements" back in June of 2007.  But I was simply referencing a Washington Post article published December 21, 2003, that read in part:

In the Great Smoky Mountains near Asheville, N.C., investors two years ago bought 4,400 acres, placed an easement on 3,000 acres and then began developing 350 home sites and an 18-hole golf course on the remaining property.

A master plan for the development, called the Balsam Mountain Preserve, shows that the easement area is broken up by the fairways and home sites, which spot the land like mushrooms on a pizza. 

Investors paid about $10 million for the land and shared in a tax write-off "in the $20 million range," said James A. Anthony, a partner in the South Carolina development firm of Chaffin/Light Associates. 

The deduction was based, in part, on an appraiser's assessment of how much the land would have been worth had they filled the acreage with 1,400 homes, Anthony said. 

Far from a liability, the easement has become a marketing tool. Sales literature describes the subdivision as "a community within a park" and the undeveloped portions as maintained "for the quiet enjoyment of members." 

Anthony said: "It does add value to the remaining land. Kind of like a limited-edition print -- the fewer you have, the more the value." Appraisers factored any appreciation into their calculations of the tax benefit due the investors, Anthony said. 

The firm is considering placing an easement directly on the golf course once it is completed, he added.

Well, the chickens finally came home to roost, even if it took a dozen years.  Bottom line, according to Forbes, is that the Internal Revenue Service didn't look favorably upon the shell game that Balsam Mountain Preserve tried to play with their conservation easement.  And so, at the moment, the score is TAX COURT - 1, BALSAM MOUNTAIN PRESERVE - 0.  But you can bet the game isn't over.

So what's Andie MacDowell got to do with it?  Not a whole lot, other than owning a lot at the development, and allowing her name and image to be used in marketing.  The writer of the Forbes article confessed that using her name would make it more likely that more people would read his story about the Tax Court ruling.  And since he mentioned her name, he figured he might as well post her picture (looking mighty damned fine, I might add.)  Sounds like something I would have done back in the day, in my desperate attempts to get people to read about the deadly dull financial misdeeds of the dastardly developers.  Here's the disclaimer from Forbes writer Peter J. Reilly:

The things we bloggers do to attract traffic. What can I say? I really didn’t expect a celebrity angle when I dug into this, but I couldn’t resist when I found one. Particularly when my software offered up such a great picture.

Yep, at least he admits the same thing I discovered a long, long time ago.  You readers would rather ogle Andie MacDowell in a revealing dress than read about the intricacies of Balsam Mountain Preserve's trials and tribulations with the IRS.  That's OK.  So would I.

Anyhow, way back when, I took note of North American Land Trust, the outfit mentioned in the Forbes article, as an enabler in Balsam Mountain Preserve's fishy conservation easement scheme.  Since I'm running an "I-told-you-so" victory lap, I'd like to point out that I was correct about my initial assessment of NALT.  Unfortunately, I haven't tracked down my specific criticisms of NALT from way back when, but suffice it to say that it appeared to me that NALT was a lot more interested in extracting money from resort developers seeking tax breaks for so-called conservation easements, than it was in actual conservation. In a word, my impression of NALT was, back in 2007,  "SLIMY."

Nothing confirms that opinion any better than a comment left by NALT's lawyer in response to the Forbes story.  (I have to point out that this attorney representing NALT expresses a deep, deep interest in oil and gas and the Marcellus Shale industry, in particular.)  Anyhow, he takes a perfunctory stab at extolling all the public good derived from giving generous tax breaks to luxury developers for their so-called "conservation easements."  Here's the spiel from hired gun George Asimos:

Peter, the Andie McDowell angle is cute, but it is a red herring. One of the strengths of tax deductible conservation easements is that they can be used as a tool to offset development impacts and provide permanent green space in all sorts of communities. They’ve been used to privately preserved urban garden lots, historic homes and settings, working farms and ranches, suburban stream corridors and trails, and rare plant habitats even in denser suburban environments, to name only a few examples. There is no community density test or “class” test. The benefits to surrounding communities are immense and documented. I am sure there are private preserves near your home, even if you are in a suburban area and even if the land is not “wild”, that improve the quality of life there. I know the county where I live is greatly enriched by private conservation, far beyond the ability of government to purchase and all done by the charity of land owners, some wealthy, some not. And, it is not just enjoyed by Hollywood actress home owners, though they are welcome too. GA

Blah, blah, blah. I wonder how much Mr. Asimos billed NALT for that bit of prose fiction.

No doubt all those fish in Scott's Creek that died when BMP's golf course dam collapsed were herrings, too.

I'll make it real simple for you by repeating the line from the Balsam Mountain Preserve developer back in 2003:

Investors paid about $10 million for the land and shared in a tax write-off "in the $20 million range..."

That's $20 million from you and your fellow taxpayers that went toward subsidizing the luxury development where you probably WON'T be taking a hike with Andie.  But don't worry your little head about all that.  She'll host your virtual visit to Balsam Mountain Preserve right now:

I'm so glad I went to the bake sale when I had the opportunity.  I sure did enjoy Andie MacDowell's cookies.


Back when I retired from this gig, I also retired about 500 posts - most of which reported on the hijinks of our WNC luxury developers. To celebrate Balsam Mountain Reserve's new-found notoriety in Forbes, I've retrieved a number of those posts concerning BMP.  And here they are:
Don't say you weren't warned.


For full text of the Tax Court ruling

And I would be remiss if I did not mention the Sylva Herald story from January 30, 2015, which identified Balsam Mountain Preserve (Balsam Mountain Group) as topping the list of delinquent tax(non)payers in Jackson County: 

Balsam Group of Balsam Mountain Preserve is the No. 1 tax scofflaw for 2014 in Jackson County with $112,597 due, according to a Top 100 list compiled and released last week by county officials. Out-of-state business interests own the 4,400-acre development.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Judaculla Sky

Judaculla Sky II, 20x24", Acrylic, October 2014, Gulahiyi. Inspired by Judaculla Rock, prehistoric petroglyph located near Cullowhee, NC

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Sacred Groves - 8

Jasper Francis Cropsey, Pool in the Woods

For every man there is some spot on earth, I think, which he has pledged himself to return to, some day, because he was so happy there once. Even to long for it is holiday of a sort. These visits of revery may be all that he can pay it, for years, perhaps until his shade is free to haunt where it pleases. But some are lucky; some get back, and find it, to every trembling leaf and stanch old tree trunk, untouched by any alteration but the seasons'.

-Donald Culross Peattie, Flowering Earth (1939)

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Lost in New York City

Physicists say we are made of stardust. Intergalactic debris and far-flung atoms, shards of carbon nanomatter rounded up by gravity to circle the sun. As atoms pass through an eternal revolving door of possible form, energy and mass dance in fluid relationship. We are stardust, we are man, we are thought. We are story. — Glenda Burgess

While trying to find some old documents on NC meteors, I did track down an article from the Journal of the Elisha Mitchell Scientific Society, Vol 7 (1890) - "A List and Description of the Meteorites of North Carolina," by F. P. Venable. He catalogues the 23 meteorites then known to have fallen in North Carolina.

Several had been found in Western North Carolina: in Asheville, Black Mountain, Hominy Creek and Madison County. The best story accompanies the “fresh” meteorite found in Haywood County:

On the Meteoric Stone from Ferguson, Haywood County, North Carolina. Mr. W. A. Harrison, of Ferguson, Haywood County, North Carolina, says: that about six o'clock on the evening of July 18, 1889, he noticed a remarkable noise west of him, and that fifteen minutes later he saw something strike the earth, which, on examination, proved to be a meteoric stone, so hot that he could scarcely hold it in his hand five minutes after it fell. Two-thirds of its bulk was buried in the earth when found. This stone was sent to the writer and was unfortunately lost in New York city during the month of December. The stone was slightly oblong, covered with a deep, black crust, which had been broken at one end, showing a great chondritic structure with occasional specks of iron. Its weight was about eight ounces: and it very closely resembled the meteoric stone from Mocs, Transylvania. It remained in the writer's possession so short a time that it was not properly investigated, but still the mere mention of a fall which had been so carefully observed is thought to be well worthy of publication.

In the early 1900s Dr. Oliver Cummings Farrington, Curator of Geology in the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago, published a couple of books on meteorites, including A Catalogue of the Meteorites of North America.(1909) Regarding the distribution of 247 verified meteor "falls” found to date in North America, Dr. Farrington observed:

The greatest massing of meteorites in the whole province of North America occurs in the region of the southern Appalachians, where the states of Kentucky, Virginia, Tennessee, North Carolina, Georgia, and Alabama adjoin. A circle with a radius of 300 miles drawn about Mount Mitchell, North Carolina, as a center, will include nearly half of the known meteorites of North America. Twenty-five of these, or nearly half of the known falls of the continent, are observed falls, and it would seem possible at first thought that many of the meteorites in this area might have come from a single shower. This would reduce the number, but the writer has made a careful study of the history of each meteorite and its geographical relation to those of similar character without finding any support for such a view. Not only does the area contain a large number of observed falls, but the finds embrace a variety of types larger than any known to be produced by a single shower.

Farrington came up with an explanation for this concentration of reported meteorites:

Density of population will increase the number of meteorites known from a region, because the greater the population the greater the number of observers and the more numerous the chances both that the meteorite will be observed when it falls and that it will be found after it has fallen. As regards character of population, a high order of intelligence is favorable not only to the observation but to the preservation of meteorites. The writer has elsewhere called attention to the fact that the distribution of meteorites on a map of the world is almost exactly that of the Caucasian race. This seems to prove quite conclusively that the distribution of meteorites is largely dependent on the degree of civilization attained in a region. That this factor is more important than density of population is shown by the fact that no meteorites are known from China in spite of its immense numbers of people. In the province of North America it is hardly likely that the different degrees of intelligence existing in different regions would exert any discernible influence on the number of meteorites known.