The Asheville Citizen-Times issued a report card today and Balsam Mountain Preserve earned a grade of D. While this is out of character with the overwhelmingly positive news coverage that the development has enjoyed for the past several years, it would not surprise observers from the Shawangunk Mountains of New York.
At the same time that Chaffin/Light Associates was moving ahead with its golf course and 350 houses on Balsam Mountain, the same developer was stymied in its attempts to launch a similar project in New York. Here in North Carolina, Chaffin/Light was greeted with minimal controls on development, silence from environmental groups, and complicit news media that parroted anything cranked out by the Chaffin/Light public relations department.
In New York, the response was quite different. And so was the outcome.
Shortly after plans were announced in December 2002, the Sierra Club issued an alert:
Chaffin/Light Associates submitted a development plan…that calls for the construction of 349 houses in the middle of Shawangunk Ridge--an area the Nature Conservancy has called "one of the last great places" on Earth. ...If this plan is enacted, the rare and fragile Shawangunk ecosystem will be irrevocably damaged.
Outraged citizens responded quickly and forcefully:
How dare the out-of-state developers, Chaffin/Light, whose proposed 349 houses, golf course, private restaurant and sewage plant, would desecrate Shawangunk Ridge, pose as "eco-friendly neighbors?"
Another citizen weighed the pros and cons of the proposed development:
The cons: loss of habitat for globally and locally rare plants and animals, fertilizer and pesticide runoff from the golf course and private properties would contaminate ground water, open spaces created by development and new roads would allow invasive plant and animal species to invade into pristine areas and change the character of the existing ecosystem, further strain on local water supplies, the continued presence of people would adversely affect wildlife, the scenic beauty of the ridge would be permanently marred, etc. The pros: John Bradley and Chaffin Light Associates will earn millions of dollars, and 300-plus wealthy individuals will own land in one of "The Last Great Places on Earth."
Chaffin/Light’s “Audubon approval” was discredited by another writer:
…to clear up one aspect of the article that suggested that the developer Chaffin/Light Associates has "worked with the Audubon Society and been recognized for its land stewardship." Please be advised that there is a group, Audubon International, which certifies golf courses and housing developments. It has no connection, legally or philosophically, to the National Audubon Society, which works throughout the nation to protect birds and other wildlife, and their habitats.
Residents advocated conservation of the area that had been proposed for development:
My husband and I have been residents of Gardiner for the past eight years, choosing to relocate in the shadow of the Shawangunk Mountains, an area of unparalleled beauty, wildlife, streams, cliffs and mountains. The Shawangunk Ridge is an area that has to be saved for the generations to come to view, walk upon and to be able to regenerate their spirit so they can steward the land.
Another citizen addressed the developer:
Let Chaffin/Light, unenlightened as they are, move on to the next paradise they would desecrate for dollars.
After a long and difficult struggle, the citizen groups prevailed. Chaffin/Light abandoned its planned development, and the Shawangunk Ridge was purchased for inclusion in the Minnewaska State Park Preserve…a real nature preserve, and not one in name only.
Hindsight may be 20/20, but the ongoing disaster of Balsam Mountain Preserve could have been prevented. The story of the Shawangunks demonstrates what can happen when citizens speak out and the media actually reports the news...two things that did not happen when Chaffin/Light developed Balsam Mountain Preserve.
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