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Ask Matt ... what's next at Seven Falls

Questions remain on the way forward at Seven Falls. Questions remain on the way forward at Seven Falls.

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Q. Now that the Seven Falls development in Etowah has been settled among the lot owners, what’s next? Can they get building permits? Can someone build a cabin on a lot and rent it out?

Good questions. I pitched this to Henderson County Attorney Russell Burrell and the county planning staff. Burrell should be credited with shepherding the performance bond litigation through the courts, gaining respect from all parties. He said that the 161 lot owners have a number of options to complete the road and utility work, including assessing themselves for the cost, but that requires almost unanimity of owners – a herculean task. The $5.5 million bond money held for subdivision improvements has been released to the owners under a pre-agreed formula and the “bank is now empty.”

So what’s next? Well, the county long ago revoked the master plan for Seven Falls and today there is no one individual to oversee operations or to plan a redevelopment effort. Burrell said that some owners of multiple lots could become their own developers or sell to eventual developers. His impression was that many are tired of dealing with it, at least for now.

From my perspective, it kind of looks like the wild west out there. A lot owner might be able to secure a county building permit in the Seven Falls development if they get well and septic tank approval. They would also need construction access to their building site. The trouble is that because of the steep and rocky terrain many lots may not qualify for the necessary permits, not to mention the cost of extending electric power lines.

Burrell thinks that the existing Seven Falls covenants are still enforceable, even after bankruptcy, but here’s the catch. The covenants (57 pages long) call for an architectural review board to approve new homes but there is no active board. If you “build small,” such as a mobile home or cabin, you might get a building permit but you might also get sued by another lot owner. Attorney Sharon Alexander, who represented 39 lot owners in the bond negotiation, weighed in on the possibility of building small. “That’s a minefield of a question,” she said. “It may be better answered as test case at a law school.”

It remains to be seen if and when any substantial investment will be attempted by any of the lot owners. Should that happen it will open another chapter in the 7-year saga of Seven Falls where we saw developer mismanagement, criminal activity, environmental damage, legal battles, and now the wild west. The one thing that has not changed is that this is arguably some of the most beautiful undeveloped property in Henderson County.

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