ETOWAH — As they watch what could be the final chapter of developer Keith Vinson's role in the collapsed Seven Falls project, property owners are looking ahead at what might happen to the subdivision and the possibility that one day someone might resurrect it.
For now, the best they can hope for is that the federal criminal case will resolve Vinson's guilt or innocence in the project, a $1 billion development of the an Arnold Palmer-designed golf course, French Broad River amenities and views of mountains and waterfalls. Vinson is on trial in U.S. District Court in Asheville on 10 charges arising from the Seven Falls development and financing.
Prosecutors say Vinson conspired with bankers and other investors and an appraiser to create straw borrowers to prop up the project when it started to fail in 2008. Ten co-defendants have pleaded guilty and some of those are expected to testify against Vinson this week.
Vinson argues that the worst real estate crash since the 1930s and bad decisions —not criminal intent — led to the Seven Falls failure. A jury had the case on Thursday.
So far no one has heard publicly from the victims of Seven Falls, the lot buyers — some of whom paid cash — who have seen their investment drop by about 90 percent.
A review of assessed values and Seven Falls land sales by the Hendersonville Lightning showed that buyers in most cases paid more than the 2007 assessed values and now own unimproved lots that have plunged in value by 90 percent. That year marked the end of a land development boom in Henderson County that saw upscale developments spring up on mountain after mountain. Many have now failed or are stalled but none had the high-flying promise of Seven Falls, led by Vinson's salesmanship and slick marketing pitches.
The parcels that would make up the Seven Falls development were valued at $5.99 million in 2006. After the 2007 revaluation they were assessed at $12.37 million, according to the Henderson County Assessor's Office.
The total value of the parcels grew to $56 million in 2010. After the 2011 revaluation, the assessor's office dropped the overall value by 80 percent — to $11 million.