Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Going Very Up-Scale on Our Up-Slopes

Lengthy, in-depth article in "The Mountain XPress" (out of Asheville) about the implications of so much "outside money flood[ing] into nationally marketed, high-elevation resort projects" in western North Carolina. We're talking BIG money, of which the $150 million worth of unimproved house sites sold at Laurelmor on the opening day of that "offering" is a mere pale foretaste.

The real estate bonanza "is enough to send chills up the spines of many WNC residents," i.e., us peons, as we contemplate the future. The article mentions the downside of "sprawl" and environmental degradation, never mind the annoyance of more white Infiniti limousines blocking the fire lanes outside Harris Teeter.

But the biggest downside will be the higher cost of living that trails the perambulations of the super-wealthy like a contrail. We'll all be engulfed in that cloud of laughing gas otherwise known as inflated land values. Suddenly, my little scrub acre will get the tax re-val it so DOESN'T deserve, and I'll turn bitter, whining Republican (pace M.K. Carter) under the cruel yoke of property taxes.

The upside, they tell us, is that the filthy rich will be paying big bucks into our county coffers to own their upscale retreats, the implication being, we suppose, that the rest of us will pay less. But that line of thought reads like a non sequitur to us, because (numero uno) comparisons are odious and (numero tuo) if my own tax bill is higher next year because Mr. Billionaire bought a mountainside this year, then it hardly matters how much HE's paying. Does it?

The only hopeful thing that might come out of this land-acquisition virus among the out-of-towners would be an expanded homestead exemption, which would as a matter of fact shift the tax burden toward non-resident owners and which will have to be passed by the state legislature. That proposed exemption was championed by successful candidates Steve Goss, who won his seat in the NC Senate, and by Mary Moretz, who intends to introduce a resolution supporting it to the Watauga County Commission (possibly as early as next week).

At the moment, the only thing slowing down the basic underlying problem of a massive invasion by the super-rich, and the factotums who cater to them, are certain land-use restrictions, like steep-slope development ordinances, which are coming on in many western N.C. counties almost as fast as the land-grab.

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