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Land trust buying riverfront property at Seven Falls

A 147-acre parcel of land on the French Broad River also contains a clubhouse built for the planned Seven Falls golf course. A 147-acre parcel of land on the French Broad River also contains a clubhouse built for the planned Seven Falls golf course.

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Once envisioned as an upscale Arnold Palmer-designed golf course at the Seven Falls Golf & River Club, a 146-acre tract on the French Broad River could become a public park.

The land that was to charted for the golf course for the failed Seven Falls development is under contract to Carolina Mountain Land Conservancy, which plans to preserve the riverfront property and would like to ultimately make it available to the public for walking trails and passive recreation.

Marketed under a new name that tries to put the Seven Falls debacle in the past, the property is listed for $716,000. It contains 14 acres of lakes and ponds and nearly a mile of frontage on the French Broad River, the sales agent says.
Seven Falls left the community with “a black eye and that was unfortunate,” said listing agent Terri King, CEO of the Western North Carolina Coldwell Banker office. “But what we’re doing is we’ve sat down with the owners of this property, we’ve looked at the property, went over it very carefully and said, ‘How can we set this sale up so this becomes a very positive piece of property for the future of the community and how do we set it up so whoever comes in has an opportunity to be a good steward of the land?’ That didn’t happen the first go-round. I’ve presented this property in a way that would draw the buyer that did have an interest in moving forward in a positive direction for the community.”

Kieran Roe, executive director of CMLC, said the land trust had been aware of the property for several years.

"We had been talking to Scott McElrath for a while and when we learned recently that they were putting it on the market for a lower price than he'd been mentioning we decided that there was enough importance to the site in terms of conservation that it was something we wanted to pursue," he said.

"It is right along the French Broad, it's about 80 percent in the floodplain and it has a tributary creek that flows into the French Broad," he said. "We've really begun to regard land along the French Broad and land of that character to be a high priority in terms of retention of water quality, restoration of the bottom land and wetlands protection."

If the sale is consummated, CMLC may explore ways to allow public access.

"We would need to work with partners on those kind of things," Roe said. "Ideally for us, a public park would be ultimately owned and managed by a local government entity so probably general public access would await for us to create that park with a partner."

In the seven years since Seven Falls was selling lots, the buyers have had either no news or bad news about the future of the 1,400-acre tract of land. Seven Falls developer Keith Vinson is serving an 18-year prison sentence on fraud charges arising from the development. The Henderson County ultimately exhausted all avenues for trying to jumpstart infrastructure improvements and lot owners are in mediation over how to distribute $5.5 million from a surety bond. Now, at least those owners know that one of the most precious natural features will be preserved.

"I would hope that people who have lots in that development and anybody else in that part of the county would see what we're trying to do as a positive step," Roe said. "Part of what we're creating is an amenity that would be different from what was once envisioned and it's creating an amenity not just for those nearby residents but for other people. Seven Falls is kind of a poster child for failed development in Western North Carolina but we've been involved with a number of these kind of post-economic downturn situations where we can take some lemons and make some lemonade and make a positive public benefit."

The part that is most important from a conservation point of view is along the river. Along the road, the developer built the clubhouse and put in some roads. The CMLC is interested in selling that part.

"We'd look for a partner that might see that area as maybe a good place for some sort of business that might see proximity to the river as a good place to locate," he said.

Developer Scott McElrath, who has built subdivisions in Mills River and is currently a real estate broker in Brevard, owns land on either side of Pleasant Grove Road. The sales agents have rebranded the 146-acre as the Pleasant Grove Valley River Park and are marketing a 208-acre piece across the road as the Pleasant Grove Valley Meadows tract. The 208-acre tract has a list price of $2.2 million, and the sellers are offering to sell an 80-acre northern parcel and a 128-acre southern parcel. King does not have a buyer for the Meadows tract yet.
“We broke it up for sales purposes into several tracts,” King said. “We feel really good about this (River Park) piece of property. We really painted the picture for the future of this property for just this kind of a buyer. I think we’re heading in the right direction and it’s the right thing for the community.”

‘Perfect for crops, gardens, fishing, bird watching’

The Coldwell Banker website pitched the River park land as “perfect for crops, gardens, fishing, bird watching and river enjoyment” and invites a buyer to “create your conservation, farm, luxurious retreat or eco-development near Asheville, Hendersonville and Brevard.”
King said she understand that neighboring property owners are curious, and a little concerned, about land sales and what new buyers have in mind.
“At this stage we can tell the community that what we have done is set this sale up and presented this property in such a way that it draws the kind of buyer that will be good for the community and good stewards of the land,” King said before the brokers got permission to identify the conservancy as a buyer.
The 146- and 208-acre parcels are not part of the individual home lots covered by a bond that guaranteed infrastructure improvements.
McElrath’s group, McElrath Carolina Investments, bought dozens of other parcels in the Seven Falls subdivision from a lender. McElrath owes a total of $25,610 in 2016 property taxes on 91 parcels in Seven Falls, according to Henderson County delinquent tax notices published last week in the Hendersonville Lightning.
Separately, Seven Falls LLC owns 31 lots with unpaid taxes totaling $3,209, according to the tax listings.