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Tax Rate: Wait and see.

ASHEVILLE – Fast-rising real estate prices and local political decisions are expected to drive up property tax bills this year.

That’s because some things are known about the formula used for figuring taxes – and some things aren’t. There are two near-certainties. The first is that city property values went up an average of 29 percent since the last time the government assessed them in 2013. The second is taxes will be needed to start making payments on $74 million in voter-approved bond borrowing.

The unknowns are tax rates, which are set by the city and Buncombe County and combined for Asheville property bills.

Bills could inch up even more depending on a City Council debate over public transit funding.

Mayor Esther Manheimer said she’s not personally “shut the door” on additional funding for programs such as energy-efficiency initiatives or buses but is also concerned about tax bills.

“I’ve heard real concerns from people about affordability,” Manheimer said.


The annual tax bill for city property owners is actually a combination of tax bills.

Those are a county tax, a city tax, and in most cases, an Asheville City Schools tax.

The city rate is set by the council. The Board of Commissioners sets the county rate. Commissioners also set the schools rate after getting a recommendation from the school board.

The two elected bodies vote on those rates before the start of each fiscal year.

For most city property owners, those three rates are added together. For those outside the city schools district, only city and county rates are used. A property’s value is divided by 100 then multiplied by the combined rates.

Normally rates stay the same or go up. This year, they’re expected to drop.

But that doesn’t mean bills will also drop.

That’s because of new county-assigned property values, something that happens about every four years. This year, those values jumped in an eye-popping way.

In the slowest-growing part of the city, South Asheville, property values rose a combined 17 percent, according to the county tax office. Meanwhile, in downtown there was a 44 percent increase in the value of land, homes and other buildings.

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Asheville gentrification: When Pearson’s Store was lost

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She came home for work one day and it was gone. Everything, even the foundation. As if it had never been.

This is how we were told about the destruction of Pearson’s Store, of how the city came that day without warning and demolished the small grocery store that E.W. Pearson had opened in the Burton Street neighborhood in the early 20th century.

While telling us the story, Vivian Conley’s demeanor remained calm and endearing, but she warned us that she couldn’t speak too much about the community’s experiences without the pain and sadness rising.

I am with eight other people on a tour of the Burton Street neighborhood in West Asheville. The tour began at the Burton Street Community Center — once the segregated Burton Street School — made a stop at the site where the store once stood and concluded in the Peace Garden behind the school.

To place the loss of the store into some sort of perspective, we might consider the importance of Pearson to the history of Burton Street, to the history of Asheville as a whole and, in fact, to the history of the nation.

As a young man, E.W. Pearson was a member of the Buffalo Soldiers, the segregated 9th Cavalry unit of the U.S. Army that fought alongside Teddy Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. When he moved to Asheville in 1906, he used his real estate training from his studies in Chicago to create subdivisions for African-Americans in West Asheville, including in 1912 the Burton Street neighborhood.

In 1914, he organized the Buncombe County and District Agricultural Fair, which ran for 33 years, coming to an end the year after his death in 1946. Thousands of people attended this fair, Ms. Conley told us on the tour. Blacks and whites together, she said.

Two years after establishing the fair, he organized the first African-American semi-professional baseball team in Asheville, the Royal Giants. He had loved to watch baseball but wasn’t allowed into whites-only games in the city. In 1921, he helped to found the Blue Ridge Colored Baseball League and became its first president. The league brought together teams from North and South Carolina: Charlotte, Asheville, Spartanburg, Greenville, Gastonia, Concord, Winston-Salem, Rock Hill and Anderson.

Then, in 1933, he established the Asheville branch of the NAACP and became its first president as well. E.W. Pearson, in other words, was a leading force in the community, along with his wife Annis Bradshaw Pearson, who often joined in his efforts and was herself involved in various community and civic organizations.

I think about the store, about this man who ran it, photographed again and again in his three-piece suits and fedoras, the man who was known for the catchy phrases he created for the fair. I think of the store that sat across the street from the Burton Street School and a stone’s throw from the 1890 Wilson Chapel A.M.E. Church, two other monuments to African-American leadership and community.

I imagine the people who entered the store on a daily basis, maybe to buy a cool drink, maybe just to say hello to neighbors, maybe to see what Pearson was up to that morning, this man was who had done so much to create community in his world, the sort of man who had brought fair rides and baseball and penny candy into the neighborhood, even as he addressed the pressing social justice issues of his day.

I think of Pearson’s son, the man known as Professor Bop, who in the early 1950s became the first African-American disc jockey at WLOS Radio and who later turned the store into the Blue Note Casino, a music hall established in that historical moment when rock ‘n’ roll, with its deep and rich African-American roots, was about to explode on the national scene.

And I think of Vivian Conley, an activist who has worked diligently to hold together her neighborhood. I think of the shock she must have felt on that day she returned home from work to find the store not only demolished but missing, carried away by some rapid and unfeeling, if not hostile, force.

The day after our tour, I returned to the vacant lot. I walked up the remnants of a driveway, now broken asphalt that turns to cracked red dirt. Black walnuts litter the dry grass. A hemlock tree covered in vines attempts to survive at the edge of the lot. Off to the left, someone has nailed a sign to an old telephone pole. The sign is faded, horribly weather beaten, but you can still make out the name Jesus.

The calls of the tree frogs compete with traffic noise from the increasingly encroaching highway. The city has chosen an aggressive plan for widening Interstate 26, a plan that will roll over the old Wilson AME church, now known as Community Baptist. It will also take out Ms. Conley’s home. When this plan is implemented, it will be the third time the neighborhood has been devastated by highway construction.

I walked to the back of the lot, where someone had dumped a truckload of trash, including a broken white-picket fence. The day before, when our second tour guide — artist and poet DeWayne Barton — saw the trash, he broke into sad and solemn song. As the rest of us listened and watched, he raised his closed eyes to the heavens and voiced both lament and hope.

As it turned out, that lament represented one of the ways that community lives on in Burton Street. And I don’t mean that the community survives only in the vibration of song and broken dreams. I mean that DeWayne and his wife Safi Mahaba have created a peace garden behind the school, one they made from trash left at the site.

When our group visited, we were viewing the garden in the cool shadows of evening, and some of what makes the garden remarkable was lost on me. I laughed at the paintings of Fat Albert and Fred Sanford. I felt awed by the paintings of Rosa Parks, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi, Harriet Tubman, Malcolm X and other leaders in the civil rights movement.

Still, it wasn’t until I returned the next day, in the harsh afternoon light, that I looked closely at the images, at the meaning being conveyed by this garden. It overwhelms the senses — and the imagination — and the mythological stories wrapped into the history of the United States. It is sophisticated art in the genre of junkyard.

Though the artists’ final message is one of hope, peace and love, not for one moment do they shy away from presenting truths about racism, environmental degradation, the despair of war or the inequities of capitalism. Plastic Santa Clauses are mixed with skulls and gas masks, with crosses and tattered currency.

One particular scene in the garden took my breath away. At the base of a tree, you see a bomb half-buried in the dirt. Leaning dead against the tree is the bloodied representation of the body of an African-American woman dressed in white. Long strands of pearls hang around her neck. An Army helmet lies crooked on her bent head. An African-African child lies under her.

Yet overseeing these scenes are the icons of African-American leadership, those portraits of Tubman and King and Parks that give order to the chaos and violence. They stand in peaceful contrast to the images of Reagan and Nixon scattered among those places of the garden where wasteland is paramount.

As I was leaving, I passed a smaller exhibit. This one warned of the impact of drugs, but it also connected the loss of black life to the process of gentrification. And it’s here that I find myself at a loss, knowing that I am a part of the gentrification process of Asheville — in my case, of the African-American community of Shiloh in South Asheville, a community originally displaced by George Vanderbilt when he built Biltmore Estate.

I don’t yet know how to react to my role in gentrification, but I’m glad I took the Hood Huggers Tour of Burton Street. I hope it will make me a better neighbor.

Dr. Darlene O’Dell has published three books, including the most recent “The Story of the Philadelphia Eleven” (Seabury Books, 2014). She has appeared on NPR and has taught at Clemson University and the College of William and Mary. Contact her at or visit


Hood Tours offers driving and walking tours of 90 minutes to 2 hours. Learn more at or call 828-275-5305. 

Driving tours run at 1 p.m. most Thursdays and at noon or 3 p.m. Saturdays, or by appointment for groups of 5-9 people. Driving tours typically begin at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center, 30 George Washington Carver Ave., Asheville. The cost is $25/person.

Walking tours of  the Burton Street Community (West Asheville), East End Valley Street (downtown) and Shiloh (South Asheville) are available for groups of 5-25 people. The cost for a walking tour is $20/person.

Tours incorporate history, art, poetry, music, community green spaces, local voices and more to relate the past, present and future of African-Americans in Asheville. Tours are led by artist, poet and community activist DeWayne Barton.

According to its website, “Hood Tours is a social enterprise that provides opportunities for young people while helping to spark more grassroots economic development in these resilient communities.”


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Spec homes return to WNC’s landscape

But Asheville builders and bankers say increased activity spans the spectrum, from “affordable” to high-end homes.

For the first time since the Great Recession, spec-home construction and lending is up in the Asheville area, some builders and bankers say.

Sparse inventory, combined with high demand for houses, caused some financial institutions about nine months ago to free up funding for spec homes.

“It’s important that the building community is able to offer new homes for people who need a move-in-ready home now,” said Brandon Bryant, president and owner of Red Tree Builders in Asheville.

A spec home is one contractors build on speculation, without a confirmed buyer. Developers typically build those types of homes only in areas where they believe a profit will occur.

“Having a healthily balance of new homes and resales balances the market for buyers,” said Bryant, the Asheville Home Builders Association first vice president and a national director for the National Association of Home Builders in Washington, D.C.

“Currently, home buyers have to grapple with the lack of inventory,” Bryant said. “Banks allowing spec loans does allow builders and developers to respond to the demand out there.”

The number of houses in Buncombe County for less than $300,000 is the lowest in roughly a decade, said Don Davies, founder of Asheville-based Realsearch, a company that analyzes real estate trends. Just 441 with an average asking price of $213,106 existed at the beginning of the month, he said.

“We opened up a little bit in the more affordable range at $350,000 and lower about six to nine months ago,” said David Kozak, Asheville Savings Bank executive vice president and chief credit officer.

“That’s what we, as a community, need for working people,” said Kozak, who added that industry analyses and market-share studies showed consumers couldn’t find homes in that price range.

He cautioned, however, that the bank green-lights loans for up to 10 spec homes at any one time.

“We’re not going hog wild on this,” Kozak said.

In other words, a few dozen spec homes coming on the region’s market is not going to solve Asheville’s ongoing affordable housing crisis.

A Nationwide report published last month concluded the Asheville metro area’s housing market has reached unsustainable levels.

The study’s authors ranked the metro area market as the nation’s sixth unhealthiest because of the widening gap between the region’s housing prices and wage levels, said David Berson, Nationwide senior vice president and chief economist.

Finite buildable land is another reason housing costs continue to climb, said Jamie Dose, president of Old Northstate Building Co. in Swannanoa. Because what land is available exists in a mountainous region with rivers, contractors must grapple with complex situations like steep slopes and flood plains, Dose said.

“The dynamics of the (Appalachian) mountains make it a very complex situation,” he said. “People can get more for land because there’s not much of it.”

Dose and his company work with Asheville Savings Bank exclusively, he said.

Old Northstate was the first builder the bank restarted spec-home lending with, Dose said Asheville Savings officials told him. Other companies now are obtaining such loans from the bank.

Dose predicted spec-home lending practices would “continue to expand” across the community because “we’re going to have to have the release of capital to meet the demand.”

The higher-end market for spec-home construction lending freed up even earlier, said Robert Sulaski, a principal and cofounder of Sulaski & Tinsley Homes.

That Asheville-based design-and-build company constructs homes ranging from roughly $475,000 to $1.8 million, said Sulaski, whose company helped develop Biltmore Park.

“Within the last eight to 12 months — the bulk of which are between $650,000 and $900,000,” Sulaski said, describing when the spec-home loan environment shifted.

“We’re consistently building 12 to 14 spec homes,” he said. The buyers “come from other cities.”

Sulaski acknowledged those residences don’t fit into the affordable category, but he said the people who purchase them are a boon to the local economy nonetheless.

They often are small-business owners who “instantly reinvest” in the community, he said.

They bring parts of their businesses to town, buy cars and other products from Asheville-area companies, and bring in revenue by attracting friends who spend money on expensive hotel rooms and restaurants, Sulaski said.

Richard Whitney, president of Whitney Commercial Real Estate in Asheville, concurred.

“That’s exactly my position,” Whitney said. “The money’s coming in.”

Consumer confidence continues to rise, he said. “I don’t suspect problems for years.”

Plus, more people are buying houses, said Peter Best, senior vice president and head of Capital Bank’s Asheville commercial team.

“We’re doing more lending in the speculative market because we’re really centered on the rebound in the housing market,” Best said. “But we’re looking for partners, not whales. We’re not going for home runs. We’re looking for builders with whom we can build relationships.”


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NC Senate bill targets squatters using foreclosed homes

A state Senate bill filed Tuesday would toughen penalties for people who take up residence in foreclosed homes and file fake legal documents to stay there.

Sen. Stan Bingham, a Davidson County Republican, said he’s proposing Senate Bill 754 in response to news reports about “sovereign citizens” who move in illegally and refuse to leave.

“Nuts, I call them,” Bingham said. “They’ll use the legal system to benefit themselves and move in properties.”

The Charlotte Observer wrote about such an incident last year. A group of people affiliated with a Moorish Nation group that doesn’t recognize state, federal or local laws moved into an $800,000 foreclosed home in the Piper Glen neighborhood.

The woman claiming ownership was evicted and arrested, but she kept coming back and filing nuisance legal claims against local police and the homeowner’s association.

“It’s a big problem in Mecklenburg County, I don’t know why,” Bingham said. “They’re going in these homes, eating nice food, running the refrigerator, running up the power bill.”

Bingham’s bill would make it a felony for someone to file false liens on property or occupy property they’d previously been evicted from. The penalty would include a fine of at least $1,000.

“This will give (authorities) a little leeway and prevent this thing from happening,” he said.

Read more here:


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NC Foreclosure Prevention Fund for struggling homeowners receives $224 million

The North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Fund received $224 million in funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury last week to aid homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. (Source: NC Housing Finance Agency)

The North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Fund received $224 million in funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury last week to aid homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages. (Source: NC Housing Finance Agency)


The North Carolina Foreclosure Prevention Fund received $224 million in funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury last week to aid homeowners struggling to pay their mortgages.

According to the NC Housing Finance Agency, the money came from the Treasury Department’s Hardest Hit Fund, which is available to states that experienced high unemployment or a steep decline in property values.

The Foreclosure Prevention Fund was launched in 2010 and to help homeowners struggling due to job loss, reduction in income or other temporary hardships and expanded in 2013 to assist returning veterans transitioning to civilian jobs.

“This additional funding from the U.S. Department of the Treasury is a testament to just how successful this program has been in the state,” said A. Robert Kucab, executive director of the N.C. Housing Finance Agency. “So far, we have helped nearly 22,000 North Carolina homeowners keep their homes, and with this additional funding, we expect to help thousands more and to continue our special outreach to returning veterans.”

Mortgage payment assistance is provided in the form of zero-interest, deferred loans of up to $36,000.


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The Cliffs Announces Strong Sales and Momentum in 2016

Western Carolina Luxury Communities Announce Record 2015 Real Estate Transactions And Begins 2016 With Accolades, New Members and Plans for Continued Growth

Travelers Rest, S.C. (PRWEB) April 07, 2016

A strong upward growth trend continues within The Cliffs, a collection of seven private luxury mountain and lake communities in the western Carolinas. A total of 146 real estate transactions closed in 2015, representing a 20% increase over 2014 sales, and year-to-date sales in the first quarter of 2016 are up 16% over last year. The Cliffs continues to see an increase in land and home values across all seven communities, and sales leads with prospective buyers have increased 129% since 2014. To date, there are 1,532 completed homes and 111 homes under construction.

“We entered 2016 with strategic plans to build on the strong momentum generated in 2015,” says Kent Smith, President of Cliffs Land Partners. “At The Cliffs, our goal is to capture and perfect the four-season appeal of the Carolinas, and the recent activity not only showcases that we have sustainable and successful communities, but also validates our core belief that The Cliffs offers one of the most unique and diverse real estate opportunities in the country.”

The Cliffs Makes the Grade:

Located between two of the nation’s most award-winning cities for quality of life – Greenville, South Carolina and Asheville, North Carolina – The Cliffs provides access to an incredible range of amenities across all seven communities; a member of one is a member of all, offering a truly distinctive lifestyle that has placed the communities at the top of numerous “Best Of” lists.

The Cliffs has already received two significant awards in 2016, including recognition as the “Happiest Community in America” by Real Estate Scorecard, the industry leader in online real estate reviews. The award took into consideration rave reviews from property owners, who praised The Cliffs’ quality of life and unique blend of family recreation, entertaining, well-being and life-enriching experiences.

The Cliffs was also honored in the February 2016 issue of GOLF Magazine as one of the “25 Best Golf Communities in North America,” showcasing The Cliffs’ seven championship golf courses, as well as the diverse lifestyle and comprehensive membership offering.

New Members Come to The Cliffs:

Recognizing the unique appeal that membership offers, The Cliffs introduced new Corporate and National membership programs last year. In 2015 The Cliffs welcomed 202 new members including 20 new Corporate and National members, with plans to grow the program in 2016.

A limited number of memberships are currently available and provide a way for select businesses and corporately connected individuals to experience and entertain at The Cliffs. Similar to homeowners, members can access all amenities within the seven communities, including seven championship golf courses, cycling programs, wake-boarding, shooting sports, six wellness centers, more than fifty restaurant and private event venues, clubhouses, a marina, beach club, tennis complexes, an equestrian center, fly fishing, miles of hiking trails, wine clubs, an organic farm and a number of year-round social activities.

Continued Expansion on Lake Keowee & Mountain Park:

The Cliffs’ suite of amenities continues to expand. Later this year, The Cliffs at Mountain Park will open a wellness center to include a cardio theater with state-of-the-art equipment, group exercise classes, and personal training.

The next phase of The Cliffs will launch this summer with the unveiling of The Landing at Keowee Springs, a new 600-acre waterfront neighborhood within The Cliffs at Keowee Springs. Offering more than 150 premier lakefront homesites, The Landing will significantly increase The Cliffs’ prime real estate offering along Lake Keowee and is part of the ongoing development of the Keowee Springs community, which started last year with the successful release of the Dockside at Keowee Springs neighborhood. Additional planned developments for Keowee Springs incorporate a comprehensive amenity expansion, including a Clubhouse with a restaurant and bar; Wellness Center with an indoor pool, spa and tennis courts; and an outdoor pavilion and garden.

“It is exciting to embark on the next chapter of development at The Cliffs and continue the accelerated growth initiated by Dockside in 2015,” says David Sawyer, President of The Cliffs Clubs. “The exclusive addition of The Landing will bring a fresh perspective on lakefront lifestyle and we are looking forward to welcoming new members and families into this energetic community.”

The Cliffs at Keowee Springs was introduced in 2004 and spans 1,500 acres on the shore of Lake Keowee. Current amenities include the Beach Club that offers two pools, water slides, kayaks, canoes and paddleboards; The Porch that includes a fitness studio, member lounge, and golf shop; and the Carolina Smokehouse and Market.

For more information on The Cliffs, please visit or call 866-411-5771.

About The Cliffs:

The Cliffs is a collection of seven premier private, luxury residential mountain and lake communities located in the Blue Ridge Mountains of the western Carolinas, between two of the nation’s top award-winning cities for quality of life – Greenville, S.C. and Asheville, N.C. – and Clemson, S.C. The Cliffs’ suite of amenities for members includes seven clubs, six wellness centers, 50 restaurant and private event venues, seven championship golf courses, marinas, beach club, cycling, paddle sports, tennis complexes, equestrian center, hiking trails, wakeboarding, wine clubs, an organic farm and more than 4,000 year-round social activities to create timeless experiences. Homes at The Cliffs range in price from $500,000 to $6 million+; homesites, from $125,000. For more information about The Cliffs, visit Contact The Cliffs at 866-411-5771 or info(at)cliffsliving(dot)com to arrange a Discovery Visit.


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HGTV house in West Asheville hits the market for $490,000

The prize of a lifetime coveted by millions of people who entered into an HGTV-branded sweepstakes last summer is for sale in Asheville.

The fully-furnished HGTV Urban Oasis home, at 17 Russell St. in West Asheville, is on the market for $490,000.

Asheville Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty will facilitate the sale through a series of open houses on April 16-17 and 23-24 and a sealed bidding process that runs through the last open house on April 24.

The winner of the sweepstakes, Crystal Harriman, of Poulsbo, Washington, decided not to keep it. Harriman has three children, so life in the 1,300-square-foot, two-bedroom bungalow would have been cramped.

“It’s a beautiful home, and we love it very much,” she said in a news release. “We had a hard time leaving it when we were in Asheville, but it would be really hard to uproot our children and our life.”

The 100-year-old home was fully remodeled by Asheville’s Wilson Architects and JAG Construction as part of the HGTV project, and it comes with furnishings and decorations by designer Brian Patrick Flynn. It includes works by local artists Hannah Dansie, Joanna Maldonado, Mark Bettis, Patricia Cotterill, Phillip Deangelo, Walter Arnold and Josh Copus, plus kitchen accessories, bikes and skateboards, art supplies and even the clothes.

The house part of the prize package is exactly as HGTV awarded it, explained Mike Figura, owner of Mosaic Community Lifestyle Realty. HGTV valued the house at $490,395, so that’s how Figura determined the list price.

Because the house is a TV star and it’s fully furnished, he said he doesn’t expect the sale price to affect home prices in Asheville.

“People who are concerned about affordable housing in Asheville, don’t panic about this,” he said. “This house is being sold furnished, and it’s a famous house. That’s going to be taken into account in the pricing.”

He also said sellers should not get unrealistic expectations about selling 1,300-square-foot homes for nearly half a million dollars. This deal is a one off.

A two-bedroom bungalow in West Asheville costs in the low to mid $200,000s.

Figura said he has no way to predict who will buy the house, but if he had to guess, he would say someone from out of town.

“I would probably say it will be a second home,” he said. “Most people in our market are who making a lateral move or moving up, they already have a furnished home.”

He said it will not be a vacation rental because they are prohibited in the city limits.

At the open houses, Figura said he expects potential buyers and curious fans of HGTV’s programming.

Open houses take place from 2-5 p.m. April 16-17 and 23-24 at 17 Russell Street. For more information, visit


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