Developer plans swim and tennis country club at Stone Hedge Inn

Published 4:34 pm Wednesday, May 19, 2010

The Stone Hedge Inn property outside Tryon will be transformed into a swim and tennis country club later this year, according to plans from a development company seeking to buy the property.
Watercress Group contracted last week with Stone Hedge owners Tom and Shaula Dinsmore to purchase the 26-acre property on Howard Gap Road, according to the groups project manager Jeff Tempest.
Watercress already has begun accepting applications for the private club, which it says will include 12 tennis courts and an 8-lane, Olympic indoor swimming pool. Plans also call for the club to have a fine dining restaurant inside the current inn building, the existing outdoor pool and a cabana near the pool offering healthy fruit drinks. All of the amenities would be available only to members.
“We feel the community has a need for something like this. We feel this could be another jewel in Polk County’s crown,” says Tempest, noting the county already has numerous golf clubs and equestrian facilities, but no swim and tennis club. “Currently, you have to go to Henderson or Spartanburg counties if you want to swim indoor year round.”
The area does have the Tryon Swim Club, although it is not an Olympic sized pool, and does not include other amenities.
The county zoning administrator will have to approve the proposed new land use because the Stone Hedge property currently is grandfathered under for use as a bed and breakfast.
Polk County Zoning Administrator Cathy Ruth says she has given verbal approval already because the proposed new land use is permitted.
The countys zoning ordinance permits country clubs in the RE-1 zoning district.
Ruth says she will officially approve the new land use once Watercress has completed the zoning application.
Any residents who are concerned about the potential impact of the new land use will then have 30 days to appeal the administrators decision to the countys zoning board of adjustment. The quasi-judicial board would then hear evidence from both sides on the issue before making a ruling.
In consideration of the appeals process, Watercress says the closing date for the property was set for August 25.
Tempest, who previously lead the development of the Pattie Inn and restaurant in Columbus, says he hopes construction of the tennis courts and excavation for the indoor pool can begin in late summer. If so, he says, the tennis courts could be done near the end of summer and the pool done this fall.
Watercress is planning four outdoor, all-weather tennis courts, four clay courts and four covered courts. A 240-by-120 foot building, similar to that used for the covered riding ring at FENCE, would be used for the covered courts.
Until the indoor Olympic pool is complete, members will have access to the existing, outdoor pool on the inn property, which will remain after the indoor pool is done to give members another swimming option.
Watercress plans to expand the kitchen and dining area of the inn for the fine dining restaurant, but will not offer overnight stays.
The upstairs of the inn, which currently includes some of the inns rooms, would be converted to use for special functions. By removing poles and nets, the covered tennis court area also could be used for large functions, such as weddings, says Watercress.
Although the property is in an unincorporated, “dry” area of the county, Tempest notes that country clubs are permitted to obtain liquor licenses and Watercress plans to obtain one to offer a full bar at the restaurant.
Memberships for the swim and tennis club are available now, according to Tempest, who adds that a 20 percent discount will be offered to those who sign up during the current, introductory period.
The Watercress development group plans to allow about 700 memberships in a two tiered system. The higher tier would require a one-time upfront fee and provide the member with voting rights to set club rules and programs.
A “family” membership, available for a lower fee assessed annually, does not include voting rights. Members also would be required to spend a small monthly amount at club facilities for dining, equipment and/or supplies.
Anyone interested in learning more about the memberships can contact Tempest at 828-283-1282 or by mail to Watercress Group, P.O. Box 351, Saluda, N.C., 28773.
Watercress plans to construct the tennis courts in whats now a field off to the right as visitors travel toward the inn building on Stone Hedge Lane. The indoor pool would be placed below the existing outdoor pool. A parking area is proposed on the other side of Rockwood Lane from the inn.
Watercress Group says it plans to employ about 30 people when the swim and tennis club is fully operational. Tempest adds that the group plans to employ local contractors as much as possible for construction of the club “to invest back in the community.”
Local artisans originally constructed the inn building in the 1930s, using stone collected from the property. The house was constructed as a mountain retreat for Tommy and Lily Costa of Ohio.
At the time the property included more than 170 acres, but much of the property was sold off over the years until reaching the current 26-acre dimensions.
In the late 1970s the property was transformed into a business. The Dinsmores, who moved here in 1995 from Bradenton, Florida to operate the inn, are the third couple to own the business.
Tempest says he has talked with the Dinsmores about allowing the inn to continue operations until construction begins for the club. That would allow the inn, he says, to fulfill committments to guests who have already booked visits.

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