Foster Creek Preserve developers share vision, hear concerns

Published 3:51 pm Monday, April 6, 2009

At the two workshops Tuesday, which drew a total of about 20 people, Foster Creek Preserve developers encouraged area residents to share their thoughts.

&dquo;The reason we are holding this meeting is to have this dialogue,&dquo; said Karen Tessier of Foster Creek Preserve. &dquo;It is important to shape this whole neighborhood so it fits in with the town of Columbus.&dquo;

Tessier said Foster Creek Preserve developers share with area residents a desire to protect the beauty of the Blue Ridge escarpment, the area where the mountains rise from the hills of the Piedmont.

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For that reason, she said, the developers are striving to make Foster Creek Preserve a model for sustainable development in the region. She said Foster Creek&bsp; plans to preserve 65 percent of the land, use low-impact development techniques, follow green house building programs and participate in the Dark Sky initiative (see more on the development plans on page 10).

Tessier said the developers are committed to leaving more than 650 acres as natural open space and they realize how important that is to the people of Columbus and Polk County.

&dquo;One thing we heard over and over was sustainability,&dquo; said Tessier. &dquo;This is a very special area. We treasure that and want to protect it.&dquo;

Regional marketing

The development likely would be marketed regionally, said Tessier, to people who are interested in having a second home in the mountains or being in a rural place close enough to cities where they can work.&bsp; Most of all, she said, the development will be for people who love the natural environment and value the principles of sustainability.

Tessier said the developers want to create a multi-generational neighborhood that &dquo;suits a whole range of folks&dquo; with several options of living styles, including family homes, second homes and garden homes. A dense &dquo;village&dquo; area with patio homes is planned near the main entrance, while lot sizes increase as they move up the slope of the mountain.

Columbus planning board member Bonnie Tillman questioned whether Foster Creek Preserve&squo;s plans fit with the rural setting of the area, and whether anyone will want patio homes in close proximity to each other.

&dquo;I came up here to get away from all this,&dquo; said Tillman, who as a member of the planning board will have a say in the approval process. &dquo;I feel like I&squo;m going to be looking at clutter. To me it&squo;s not like a country feeling.&dquo;

But Foster Creek representatives said most of the development will be on low-lying, flat areas that are not necessarily visible from outside the development. They added that even those lots further up Little White Oak Mountain are in relatively flat plateau areas that may not be visible from below.

The development is able to minimize sprawl and impact on the land by clustering homes in higher density areas at low elevations, they noted.

The developers said they will take into consideration how the development may look to people outside it. That&squo;s one of the reasons they are planning to use lights that point toward the ground so the development is less obtrusive at night.

They added that the highest density areas with patio homes are a very small portion of the overall development and they believe such homes will be appealing to certain potential buyers.

Gated or not gated

Scott Kilby, project manager for Forest City Land Group SE, said the developers have not decided whether the development will be gated. He said it&squo;s likely only certain portions of it may be gated, but the developer will make a decision later after considering what may appeal most to prospective buyers.

Even if it is gated, he said, the hiking and nature trails, and a required public park in the development, would be accessible to the public.

Eric Gass noted that if Foster Creek eventually has about 700 homes that would be nearly double the number currently in the town and he doesn&squo;t think it&squo;s appropriate to have that much of the town behind a gate.

&dquo;There&squo;s going to be a gated Columbus (with 700 homes) and an ungated Columbus with 350 homes, and that hits me as sort of below the belt,&dquo; he said.

Kilby said he appreciates that sentiment. &dquo;That&squo;s what we need to hear,&dquo; he said.

Conservation easement

In response to a question from Polk County commissioner Renee McDermott, Kilby said Foster Creek Preserve is considering establishing a conservation easement for the protected acreage in the development. He said the developer has already had discussions with Pacolet Area Conservancy and Nature Conservancy.

Even if it&squo;s not in an easement, the land would have restrictions through the property owner&squo;s association, he said.

Kilby said Foster Creek Preserve is also considering creating trails that connect to state game lands on the other side of Little White Oak Mountain and to the nearby county recreation complex in Mill Spring.

The northern end of the property reaches almost to the Polk County Middle School and recreation complex property, while the southern end of the property stretches close to the neighborhood on the southeast slope of White Oak Mountain.

Traffic impact

The tract of land, which already has been annexed by Columbus at the developer&squo;s request, has limited road frontage, but is expected to have entrances on both Hwy. 108 and Houston Road.

The main entrance is proposed on Hwy. 108, just east of the intersection with Houston Road, and the secondary entrance is planned on Houston Road.

Several of the people who attended the workshops Tuesday live in the Houston Road area and voiced concerns about the impact of the development on traffic. Residents said they do not believe Houston Road can handle a large increase in traffic, particularly if future residents of Foster Creek Preserve choose to travel toward downtown Columbus using Houston Road rather than Hwy. 108.

They added that construction vehicles could cause safety hazards on the narrow and winding Houston Road or even damage the road surface.

Kilby said the developer could control the flow of construction traffic, and he thinks it makes sense to use the main entrance on Hwy. 108 for construction vehicles.

Robert Baysden of Stone Jenest & Cole, the project engineer for the development, acknowledged that Foster Creek residents would have the option of using either Houston Road or Hwy. 108. However, the development will be required to make any road improvements required by the N.C. Department of Transportation (DOT) after it completes a traffic impact analysis. That might include, for instance, some changes at the secondary entrance on Houston Road to improve sight distance, he said.

Area residents said they were concerned about more traffic flowing through the intersection of Houston Road, White Oak Mountain Road and Chocolate Drop Mountain Road. Baysden said he did not think the state would require road improvements that far from the development.

Erosion control

A few residents also raised concerns about potential erosion from the development, pointing to problems with the nearby Chocolate Drop Mountain subdivision. Patricia Gass, who lives next to the Chocolate Drop Mountain subdivision, asked whether the Foster Creek Preserve developers can guarantee they won&squo;t have the type of erosion that resulted in heavy silt flows into a pond at the bottom of Chocolate Drop.

Baysden said he can make that assurance. He emphasized that Foster Creek will not have lots on steep slopes such as those at Chocolate Drop, and it will carefully follow an erosion control plan throughout all stages of the development process. He added that a pond is located at a low end of the development, near the main entrance, and the developers would not want to see it polluted with silt from runoff.

&dquo;To disregard that would be totally unacceptable,&dquo; said Baysden. &dquo;No way do I want anything with my seal of approval on it to repeat anything that&squo;s happened elsewhere in the town.&dquo;

Seeking assurances

During one of the workshops area resident David Weiss said there was speculation that Foster Creek may get the master plan in place and then sell the property.

He asked how Foster Creek would ensure that a future owner would continue the vision to build green, sustainable homes and preserve open space.

Kilby did not indicate whether there are any plans to sell the property, but said the master plan, once approved, is locked in and establishes the development&squo;s design. He added that he would look into what other assurances can be put in place.

Susan Johann said she was concerned about potential clear cutting by owners of large lots in the development. Kilby said deed restrictions would not allow clear cutting.


Sandi Sox asked how long it will take to develop the subdivision. Kilby said the master plan could be approved in the fall and then a preliminary plat would take another six to nine months, so they may not begin selling lots until the summer of 2010. He added that the timing also depends on the economy.

Foster Creek Preserve is expected to be developed in multiple phases over about 15 to 20 years. Foster Creek representatives said the first phase likely would contain about 20 to 40 home sites on approximately 10 to 15 acres of land near the main entrance.

In response to a question from one resident, Kilby said the development will consider hiring local firms for infrastructure and construction work.

&dquo;Our goal is to use local firms,&dquo; he said. &dquo;We want to endear ourselves to the local community so we are appreciative of that.&dquo;

The developers said they will fine tune plans for Foster Creek Preserve as they proceed through the approval process, considering market potential and the concerns and ideas of area residents.

While the master plan establishes a broad guide for the development, the preliminary and final plats in subsequent stages will outline each phase in more detail.