8/3/2007 - Black Mtn Featured In The NYT
IN 1933, a radical arts academy opened in a remote valley about 15 miles east of Asheville, N.C. Simply called Black Mountain College, after the town where it was built, the school was founded by John A. Rice, a maverick educator who sought to create a sort of paradise for painting, architecture, sculpture and the liberal arts in the heart of Depression-era Appalachia.
The college's board of directors included Albert Einstein and the poet William Carlos Williams, while professors included painters, like Willem and Elaine de Kooning, and the visionary designer Buckminster Fuller. The college closed in 1957, but in its time, it gave Black Mountain a per capita level of cultural significance as great as that of any other town in the United States.
The intellectual seeds planted by the college still flourish in Black Mountain today. Along the way, the town has become a magnet for second-home owners and retirees, local residents and real estate agents say.
It's easy to see why. In the bustling downtown, tourists and local residents wander into myriad art galleries, restaurants and antique stores. In the parking lot of the popular Dripolator Coffeehouse, you're as likely to see a shiny S.U.V. as a battered Mercedes powered by vegetable oil.
Inside the Dripolator, its owner, Amy Vermillion Carroll, offers fair-trade lattes and Wi-Fi, while the town's motley bunch of hippies, yuppies, bluegrass musicians and self-described rat-race escapees plink at laptops or thumb through local newspapers.
One such escapee is Chip Craig, a real estate broker who left a job at the First Union Corporation in Charlotte 12 years ago in search of a better place to raise his children. He competes with about 50 other real estate agents, but Mr. Craig's GreyBeard Realty has a healthy business selling to retirees and second-homers and renting many of those homes out to vacationers.
Among Mr. Craig's clients are Dan and Leigh Anne Muggeo, 50 and 40, of Del Ray Beach, Fla. They bought a 1,500-square-foot house on the town's central Lake Tomahawk Park three and a half years ago for $235,000. Today they spend an average of three months a year in the town with their 3-year-old son.
"But if I could figure out a way to live here permanently, I'd do it tomorrow," said Mr. Muggeo, a New York City native who owns a marketing firm. "You look at the town's history with Black Mountain College, and today it's still just such an eclectic place. You've got the Baptists, the Presbyterians and my next-door neighbors who look like throwbacks to the '60s but are only 30 years old."
Judy Fore, 61, a mental health counselor, and her husband, Bill, 71, a retired specialist in internal medicine, were so taken by Black Mountain that they bought a 3,600-square-foot house in the town in 2001. "Five years ago, the community raised $1.2 million to buy the old town hall and start an arts center," Ms. Fore said. "I figured that any town this small that had the moxie to have such an arts center must be a great place to live." The couple now have their house on the market for $649,000 and plan to build a new, smaller home in the area.
Ms. Vermillion Carroll moved to Black Mountain in 1999. Since then, she said, the town, like nearby Asheville, has become increasingly vibrant. "More businesses have opened up here, and they're staying open," she said. "Older downtown buildings are being bought and refurbished, and there's a much wider walking area to enjoy."
East of downtown, well-tended neighborhoods of wood-frame, Craftsman-style and brick ranch houses lie on a rough grid that runs downhill to Lake Tomahawk Park. There, in the shadow of an oddly linear progression of mountain peaks called the Seven Sisters, townsfolk feed the ducks, stroll, let their children frolic at a shore-side playground or gather for Park Rhythms, a Thursday night summer concert series.
And if you're just plain hungry, it's a good place, too. On East State Street, you'll find terrific places like Perry's for barbecue or the cozy Black Mountain Bistro. A few blocks away, the turn-of-the-century Red Rocker Inn dishes out award-winning Southern cooking and gallons of sweet tea.
Pete Lascheid, 47, a dentist, and his wife, Beth, 43, a dental hygienist, travel from their home in Jupiter, Fla. Three years ago, they decided to buy a two-bedroom house for $160,000 in the Lynch Cove subdivision. They plan to spend at least six months a year in the town when their children, who are 17 and 15, reach college age.
"Everyone is just in a whole different mode in Black Mountain," Ms. Lascheid said. "You come up to a stop sign and they smile and motion you through."
Black Mountain has significant outdoor and cultural resources. The half-million-acre Pisgah National Forest is adjacent to town and is known for some of the best hiking and mountain biking in the South, and streams like Curtis Creek make for excellent fishing. In addition to the Black Mountain Center for the Arts, galleries in town feature many local artists.
Traffic, overdevelopment and pollution are hot issues. In the summer, smog from coal-fired power plants can give western North Carolina some of the worst air pollution in the nation. "It's like living in L.A. sometimes," Ms. Vermillion Carroll said.
Mr. Craig said some residents worried whether the quality of life would remain the same as the town continued to grow. "I think some are afraid to plan for growth because they don't want it."
The Real Estate Market
Mr. Craig said that while real estate prices have risen in the last decade, they are still relatively low. He said 153 homes sold in 2005, while 148 sold in 2006. From 2005 to 2006, median prices rose to $218,000 from $175,000, but growth has slowed.
Sizable plots and even farms are available outside town, and new developments, many with a conservation bent, are being built in the surrounding mountains. The Settings is a new 365-acre gated community with roughly 270 home sites planned that range from more than $200,000 per site to more than $600,000. Developers plan to leave more than 40 percent of the land as natural areas.
Nearby, Laurel Mountain Preserve is even mor e ambitious. About 40 percent of the development's 430 acres is in old-growth forest, which is to be protected but has hiking trails. Art and Peg Nadel, the developers, are offering 23 10-acre parcels for $345,000 to $525,000, and six parcels of 1.13 to 2.06 acres for $175,000 and $225,000.
"There are homes that cost in the million-dollar range, but there are also a lot in the $200,000 range," Ms. Fore said. "People aren't trying to build the grandest, most elaborate structure on the block. I think it's because they're interested in other things."
LAY OF THE LAND
POPULATION 7,667, according to a 2006 estimate by the Census Bureau.
SIZE 6.5 square miles.
LOCATION The town is off Interstate 40, about 15 miles east of Asheville and 115 miles northwest of Charlotte.
WHO'S BUYING Retirees are becoming full-time residents, while many younger families are buying vacation homes, furnishing them and offsetting the cost by renting. The town has become popular among South Floridians, refugees from Charlotte, and second-homers from Charleston, S.C.
GETTING THERE Black Mountain is an easy Interstate drive from many cities. The town is also served by the Asheville Regional Airport.
WHILE YOU'RE LOOKING The Black Mountain Inn (1186 West Old Highway 70, 800-735-6128; www.blackmountaininn.com) and the Red Rocker Inn (136 North Dougherty Street, 888-669-5991; www.redrockerinn.com) are gracious old bed-and-breakfast inns. Rooms at the Black Mountain Inn are $118 to $159 a night; rooms at the Red Rocker are $95 to $200.