A look inside River Rock
By Kelly Donaldson, Editor
On Sept. 9, members of the Tuckasegee community met with Legasus/River Rock developers for a public forum. More than 100 people attended the meeting, which was a valuable tool for rumors to be put to rest, concerned voices to be heard, and for the two sides to find common ground.
One month later, Legasus/River Rock Director of Engineering and Construction Gabe Quesinberry has had time to reflect on the meeting, which he found extremely educational and encouraging.
The barn on the Webster Creek development will be left in place for historic preservation.
Last week, Chronicle editor Kelly Donaldson sat down with Quesinberry to take a deeper look at River Rock, tour the grounds, and address some common concerns of the Tuckasegee community.
What is it?
Getting a grasp on when Legasus/River Rock acquired the property, which is located in between Old Cullowhee Mountain Rd. and Highway 107 north of Cashiers, Quesinberry said, "We've been in the area since 2004. The bulk of it was in 2005 and the very early part of 2006."
Explaining the difference between Legasus and River Rock, Quesinberry said, "Legasus is the owner of River Rock. River Rock is a community development. The neighborhoods are not connected and they each have their own special uniqueness. It's not five developments, it's one development and they all share the amenities."
The five neighborhoods within the total River Rock development consume about 3,500 acres. Webster Creek is the largest at about 1,800 acres, Tuckasegee and Trout Creek are 740-780 acres respectively, Bear Pen is around 280 acres, and Summer Sail on Lake Glenville is 68 acres, according to Quesinberry.
"Ultimately, we're looking at 1,700 home sites," said Quesinberry about how many homes will be on the overall development. "That will be a combination of single family lots, multi-family cottage/condo type products."
Affordable housingOne topic that was discussed at the public forum is whether or not there would be affordable housing within the gated communities, especially for the obvious high number of employees that will be required to keep the development running smoothly.
"We've talked to quite a few folks around the country about that," said Quesinberry. "There are a lot of models in the resort market for that (affordable housing), especially out west. There's a solution out there that works for River Rock. We just haven't quite tapped what that is. We're looking at everything. We will have it. That's an important issue for the community and it's an important issue for us."
What's happened so far?
With a plan for 1,700 homes, many wonder if construction has started on any of the River Rock properties. "We've constructed two homes in the Tuckasegee neighborhood," said Quesinberry. "People are not living there yet. Both homes were built by lot owners. One we will be leasing back as a model home and one is for sale. We don't have inventory in all of the neighborhoods now, but we are selling lots in Tuckasegee. We will have some limited first releases in some of the other communities perhaps as early as next year. We're focusing our energy on the development itself."
All of River Rock is located within Jackson County.Pros and cons of a gated community
At the public forum, there was obvious feelings of an 'us vs. them,' type of attitude, with one side being the Joe Q. Public Tuckasegee residents and natives of the area, and one side being the assumed part-time wealthy residents that play golf and reside behind gates, never fully interacting with the existing community.
When asked about the pros and cons of a gated community, Quesinberry said, "It's one of those philosophical issues with folks. There are folks in the county who really understand the value of a gated community and there are others that you just can't justify it. It's hard. There's a physical gate and it's seen as a physical barrier. We get poked and prodded every time we say it, but we're trying to build a community, not a development. We can't guarantee it. We're putting all the parts and pieces in there for it to become a viable community, but it's going to be the people that buy and live here that are going to make it a community.
"At the end of the day, it's not going to be Legasus that makes River Rock a community, it's going to be the community," said Quesinberry. "They are certainly going to have a chance to be part of Jackson County, Cashiers, Highlands, East LaPorte, Sylva, anywhere. The gate is a visual thing for a lot of folks. Some people have suggested moving it back to where it's not visible. We're certainly considering off the highway gates.
"Both sides of the fence can argue this all day long," said Quesinberry of the pros and cons of a gated community. "For some, it's a sense of security for them. It's that their property is being protected when they are not here."
With the economy struggling, both nationally and locally, contractors in the area are struggling to find work. The issue of using local contractors came up at the public forum, with residents concerned that the massive workload to complete River Rock would greatly benefit area heavy equipment operators and contractors, some struggling to find work.
"We look for the right relationships, the right people and the right expertise," said Quesinberry. "If it's here, most of the folks here have the skills, we hope they grow with us. We are not a 'get three quotes and go with the lowest quote' kind of development. Our major contractors that we are working with right now are local contractors. They understand the area and they understand the work. They bring value to us and the community. They are growing as a result of it."
The golf factor
If you driven from Cashiers to Asheville, or Greenville, S.C., you've no doubt noticed billboards promoting professional golfer Phil Mickelson's involvement with the golf portion of River Rock.
Explaining the plan for golf facilities at the development, Quesinberry said, "We have an 18-hole championship golf course and Phil Mickelson is the signature designer. We have a 22-hold short course, or par three golf course, which his former coach Rick Smith is designing. So there will be 40 holes of golf. The par three golf course will be compact as far as it's footprint on the land. It will only cover about 60 acres. The 18-hole course land area will cover about 200 acres. But there's probably less than 60 acres of grassed area and less than 40 acres that is irrigated, so you start to see how it will be a natural set up."
Quesinberry said the 18-hole course would surprise some folks when completed.
"We're not going to be creating landscapes, we're going to be working with landscapes," said Quesinberry. "Right now, we're projecting it should be finished in either late 2011 or early 2012. We are not in construction on any of it right now. We will start construction, hopefully, depending on permitting processes, sometime in the spring."
The star of the project, Mickelson, is actually is very involved with the course's development, according to Quesinberry. "He does come up on occasion. I don't know how he manages his schedule. You've got to respect folks in that level of sports or politics or whatever. But he's been very involved. He's been out here at least three times since 2007. He's been on the property, out on the four wheelers. This will be his first mountain course, but he's built some courses out west. He's been pretty openly involved. Part of our arrangement is that he would have a place here."
Quesinberry said he's unsure of whether or not memberships will be available to the general public once the course opens.
"The threshold for play on most golf courses is 400-500 golfers," he said. "After that, you get into everyone standing in line holding their card. There probably will be the opportunity to buy memberships. The plan is not concrete yet."
The golf club will include a clubhouse, restaurant, pools, as well as other activities and amenities like tennis, equestrian activities, hiking, other restaurants, a lodge, a general store and much more. "It's a pretty aggressive amenity program," said Quesinberry. "It's going to be about a $140 million amenity program."
Impact on water, streams and riversPerhaps the single most important issue to the neighboring residents of Tuckasegee is how the River Rock development will affect the streams, rivers and wells in the area.
"It's a hot issue and it's important to us," said Quesinberry. "We feel that we have a very good set of best management practices set up. We try to work with the land. We work the plan to land, not the land to the plan. We are working with the county and state officials on erosion control and monitoring. Water is as much of a resource for us as it is to the community. You can't discount that and you can't treat it poorly. We recognize there's a lot of differing opinions on that. We need to pay attention to it, manage it properly and work with folks to make sure it's taken care of."
There will be 3,800 feet of stream disturbed on the property, but Quesinberry said that's often a misconstrued number. "That number is not in one place. It's in small chunks among several properties. Some areas of that stream could use some improvement today.
"That land has a great history to it (Webster Creek)," Quesinberry added. "Early on, we had some plans for that property (which includes a historic barn.) We made the decision a while back that it (the barn) needs to stay. That's a community resource structure. We felt like that's an important thing to do is to preserve the heritage of the community."
At the public forum, a suggestion was made to make a historic preservation display somewhere on the River Rock property that would be accessible to the general public.
"We certainly heard a lot of good suggestions at the public forum. We will have some sort of cultural preservation, whether that's a display on sight or something out in the community," said Quesinberry. "That was a great suggestion."
Shy of the steep slope ordinance, River Rock was able to scoot under the recent steep slope ordinance implemented by the county through vested rights. This drew up some red flags of concern from the community, but Quesinberry said they are not the only development that did so, and it was simply a combination of timing and protection of their sizeable investment.
"We were two years under this whole deal and a lot of money had been invested at that point," said Quesinberry. "We did not do this to get under the line, we did this to protect our property rights. That's why we filed for and received the vested rights. It was not just us."
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A look inside River Rock