Around the Region: Foreclosures fall 38 percent in North Carolina

Published 8:30 am Monday, June 20, 2011

The number of foreclosures in North Carolina dropped 38.3 percent last month compared to a year ago, according to data from RealtyTrac Inc. The company reported there were 2,689 homes in the state going through foreclosure proceedings in May, which was down 3.4 percent from April 2011.
The decline in foreclosures in North Carolina exceeded the decline seen nationwide. RealtyTrac reported foreclosures dropped 33.4 percent across the nation last month compared to May 2010, and foreclosures dropped 2 percent compared to April 2011.
South Carolina’s foreclosure rate in May was closer to the national average. The Palmetto State had 2,854 households in foreclosure last month, or a rate of one in every 730 households. Foreclosures were down 8 percent in South Carolina compared to the previous month.
Cliffs Communities has filed a lawsuit claiming it was defrauded by a Texas company that gained control of a large share of two Cliffs developments, The Cliffs at High Carolina and The Cliffs at Walnut Cove.
The lawsuit claims Synovus Bank, based in Georgia, and companies related to Urbana, arranged a deal that resulted in Urbana “essentially stealing” Cliffs properties valued at more than $300 million.
Urbana now controls about 250 lots at Walnut Cove, located in Avery’s Creek near Asheville, and about 250 lots at High Carolina, a 3,000-acre development between Fairview and Swannanoa that is expected to eventually feature a Tiger Woods-designed golf course.
The Cliffs controls about 250 lots at Walnut Cove and about 850 at High Carolina.
According to the lawsuit, Cliffs Communities claims Urbana gained control of its share through a fraudulent transaction. Cliffs said Urbana agreed to purchase $105 million in Cliffs debt for about $60 million. However, Cliffs’ lawsuit claims Urbana lacked the funds so it obtained a large loan from NBSC, a unit of Synovus, and used The Cliffs land as collateral. Urbana was able to obtain the favorable deal through personal relationships with officials at Synovus and NBSC, claims The Cliffs.
The dispute with Urbana and Synovus is the latest financial difficulty faced by The Cliffs, which last year borrowed $62 million from residents in its communities to complete work on golf courses and other amenities. It’s unclear how the lawsuit will affect the future of the High Carolina and Walnut Cove developments in Buncombe County.
The N.C. Senate has approved a bill that would require young drivers to show they have completed many hours of driving practice with a parent or qualified adult before they can obtain a learner’s permit.
The bill, sponsored by Johnston County Republican David Rouzer and approved 49-0 in the Senate, would require 120 hours of driving time with an adult over several months.
Rouzer acknowledged that 120 hours of supervised driving may seem like a lot to some parents, but he said the state has to do something to curb the number of deaths on roads in the state.
The bill, based on recommendations from a task force that examined teen highway deaths, would give North Carolina one of the most restrictive young-driver laws in the country. The measure is expected to go to the full House for consideration.
Legislators in the N.C. House already are considering legislation that would make North Carolinians wait until they are 19 before they can get an unrestricted driver’s license. A House judiciary subcommittee approved by a 5-4 vote the measure that would make young drivers wait an extra year for the unrestricted license.
Legislation aimed at curbing the annexation authority of cities and towns in North Carolina has moved closer to approval in the N.C. Senate.
The Senate Finance Committee has approved a bill that would let landowners block proposed annexations. Under the bill, a town or city would be prohibited from seeking an involuntary annexation if 60 percent of the landowners in the annexation area sign a petition opposing the action. The petition would have to be completed within about four months after the annexation is approved.
Landowners also would have a chance to obtain water and sewer service taps for free if enough of them request it within about three months of the annexation.
Supporters of the bill said it will greatly restrict the authority of towns and cities to expand through “forced” or involuntary annexation. The N.C. League of Municipalities has said the bill will harm the financial health of cities and towns across the state by taking away their ability to grow at a manageable rate.
The bill, already approved by the N.C. House, will require approval of the full Senate.
The Environment and Natural Resources Committee in the N.C. House voted to eliminate North Carolina’s program to monitor clean air regulations. The bill aims to prohibit the state from enforcing regulations relating to greenhouse gas emissions beyond those enforced by the federal government.
Five companies that have the highest emissions of hazardous pollutants in the state have urged Republican legislators in the N.C. General Assembly to repeal the state’s Air Toxic Regulations. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the five companies, which include Duke Energy, were responsible for more than half of the hazardous chemicals emissions in the state in 2009.
Sheila Holman, director of N.C. Division of Air Quality, said North Carolina currently has stricter regulations for hazardous emissions than the federal government. She said the federal government’s rules do not go far enough to protect the state’s air quality. Holman said she was not advised of the legislation to repeal the air toxics program before the bill was introduced this week. She voiced concern that the bill was moving quickly through the N.C. General Assembly without sufficient time for public comment.
Emerald Isle Republican Pat McElraft, who introduced the amendment to eliminate the air toxics program, said the change would bring North Carolina’s regulations in line with surrounding states, which rely only on federal regulations for air quality. She said the change is needed to make the state competitive for businesses.
Economists at Wells Fargo said   leisure and hospitality jobs in Asheville are on the rise since last year, but job growth is slow in other areas and it likely will take years before the area’s jobless rate returns to pre-recession levels.
Wells Fargo’s economic outlook report for North Carolina said Asheville has not seen an increase in professional and business services jobs as other areas have, partly because there are fewer people moving to the area.
Max Heller, a former mayor of Greenville, S.C., who helped lead the revitalization of the city’s downtown area, died this week at the age of 92. Heller was the mayor of the city from 1971 to 1979, a period in which he led improvements in affordable housing and treatment for youthful and first-time offenders. He also helped lead the search for a major anchor that would bring back retail businesses to the city’s Main Street downtown. That search brought the Hyatt Hotel to North Main Street and led to a major redevelopment across the downtown area.
Heller was an Austrian Jewish refugee who fled from Nazi genocide in 1938, eventually settling in America, where he launched a successful career in the textile business before beginning public service.

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