Blog :: 01-2012

Asheville arts news and events

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1/30/2012 - Asheville arts news and events
by Asheville Citizen Times

 Artist Gayle Ray will host an opening reception for her painting exhibit 4-6 p.m. Friday at Woolworth Walk, 25 Haywood St.

 Ray says her art explores "how we are all connected to one another ... Whether (I'm) painting a mother with her child, trees dancing together or lovers intertwined, they all have a longing to connect with each other."

The exhibit includes pieces created with a Valentine's theme.

Blue Ridge Orchestra concert

The Blue Ridge Orchestra will present a free concert at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 5 Oak St., Asheville.

David L. Foster will be featured on the organ, performing music by Albinoni, Haydn and Saint-Saëns, accompanied by the orchestra.

Hastings show in Black Mountain

"A Blue Ridge Rhapsody," an exhibit of the landscape oil paintings of Charlotte-based artist Paul Hastings, is running at Seven Sisters Gallery, 117 Cherry St., Black Mountain, through March 11.

Hastings creates exaggerated perspectives by using shadows and highlights to suggest an almost surreal space, often in large-scale works.

Also in Black Mountain, an opening reception will be held 3-4 p.m. Feb. 5 for an exhibit featuring Robert Tynes, painter, and Megan Wolfe, ceramist, at the Upper Gallery of the Black Mountain Center for the Arts. Both artists are art department faculty at UNC Asheville.

To learn more, call 669-0930 or visit www.blackmountainarts.org.

App State joins Boone Art Crawl

Appalachian State University's Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, 423 W. King St., Boone, is welcoming the winter season with the celebration of six new exhibitions 7-9 p.m. Friday, as part of Boone's First Friday Art Crawl. View the artworks, meet the artists and enjoy live music and a cash bar.

Among the featured artists are Robert Goodnough, the late Artine and Teddy Artinian, father and son Mario and Richard Prisco and department of art faculty. To learn more, call 262-3017 or visit www.tcva.org.

UNCA debuts bent wood exhibit

"Torqued & Twisted" is the new exhibition at UNC Asheville's Center for Craft, Creativity & Design, 1181 Broyles Road, Hendersonville. The show explores the work of nine U.S. furniture makers and sculptors.

An opening reception will be 5-7 p.m. Feb. 10, and the exhibit continues through June. Tom Loeser will give a keynote talk, "Not the Straight and Narrow: Diverse Pathways to Bending Wood," at 7 p.m. March 15 in UNCA's Owen Hall, on the Asheville campus, in Room 302. There will also be a gallery talk 1-2 p.m. March 16. All events are free and open to the public.

Aquila Theatre Company arrives

The Aquila Theatre Company, directed by Peter Meineck, presents back-to-back performances of Oscar Wilde's "The Importance of Being Earnest" and Shakespeare's "Macbeth" next weekend at Diana Wortham Theatre in downtown Asheville.

"Earnest" will be at 8 p.m. Friday and "Macbeth" at 8 p.m. Saturday. Tickets are $35, $30 for students, $12 for ages 12 and younger. Student rush on the day of each show is $10. Call 257-4530 or visit www.dwtheatre.com.

Ticket holders may also enjoy pre-show discussions at 7 p.m. before each show in The Forum at Pack Place. Aquila will also present "Macbeth" as part of the Mainstage Young Audiences Series at 10 a.m. Feb. 6. To learn more, contact Rae Geoffrey at 210-9837 or rae@dwtheatre.com.

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Asheville-area home sales increase, building still tough

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1/30/2012 - Asheville-area home sales increase, building still tough
by Mark Barrett - Asheville Citizen Times

ASHEVILLE -- The area's long-troubled housing market is showing signs of life, although activity is still far below levels seen a few years ago.

The number of existing homes sold in Buncombe County and three other area counties last year was up 3.3 percent over 2010. Monthly sales figures rose five consecutive months over the same month a year before before slipping 2.3 percent in December.

Home construction was still in decline, as the number of units permitted in Buncombe, Haywood, Henderson and Transylvania counties for construction was down 11.9 percent from 2010 to 2011.

Buncombe County, however, saw an 8.5 percent increase in housing starts during the last quarter of the year.

People who follow the housing market say modest improvements in the economy and gradual absorption of excess inventory created during the housing bubble last decade are the main factors behind changes in home sales.

But they caution that while some trends point to more activity, there is little reason to expect more than slow improvement over the next few months or even years.

"This year will be a year that will be interesting. I do believe it'll be the year that we say things look like they'll turn around," local real estate analyst Don Davies said.

But any return to sales levels seen around 2005 and 2006 is years away, he and other experts say.

"I think this year is going to be the year not to get too excited," Davies said.

Below the highs

The total of 4,065 existing homes sold last year in the four counties was still only 56.7 percent percent of the peak of 7,168 in 2005, according to figures from the N.C. Association of Realtors and N.C. Mountains Multiple Listing Service.

The disparity in new home construction is even greater.

Local governments in the four counties issued permits for construction of 868 single-family homes and condominiums in 2011, 22.1 percent of the total in 2006, according to The Market Edge, a research firm based in Knoxville, Tenn.

Measures of home values in Buncombe County still show some erosion as buyers of existing homes remain at a dramatic advantage over sellers because the number of homes on the market is still larger than usual.

That dampens the demand for new homes, as some buyers think they can get a better deal buying a house that has already been built and has seen several price cuts.

"The inventory (of existing homes) is still out of balance," said Mike Figura, head of Mosaic Realty. "There's more homes available for purchase than there are people willing to purchase them, so that's putting downward pressure on prices."

During the boom years nationally, too much of the economy's resources went into building homes, said Joe Sulock, who teaches economics at UNC Asheville.

Home prices and income growth usually go hand-in-hand, he said, but prices rose dramatically while income was relatively static during the bubble.

"Basically, you had too many people in construction building houses that people couldn't afford. It takes a while for that (oversupply) to work its way through the system," he said.

"Housing is slow precisely because there was such an overbuilding."

Consumer confidence -- or the relative lack of it -- is also a big factor, Sulock said.

Despite some improvement, "There's just a lot of uncertainty about jobs. Do you want to buy a home if you're uncertain about your job?" he said.

Plus, buyers "probably figure it's not going to hurt to wait" to buy a home as long as prices are relatively weak, he said.

Price issues

The period between when an existing home was listed for sale and when it actually sold was 149 days in 2010 in Buncombe County, Davies said. That figure increased to 162 days in 2011.

The average selling price was down about 5 percent over the same period, he said, meaning people selling a home are having a tough time: "It's taking longer to get slightly less money."

The median selling price for a home in Buncombe County -- the point at which half were higher, half lower -- was $195,000 in December, down from $197,000 in December a year ago. It dipped as low as $174,000 earlier this year.

Federal figures show a 5.3 percent decline in home values in the four-county Asheville metropolitan area from the third quarter of 2010 to the same period in 2011.

Those figures, which include sales in Madison County but not in Transylvania County, exclude data from sales of the most expensive homes, the category where home values have dropped the most.

Another factor eroding values besides excess inventory is banks trying to unload homes on which they they have foreclosed .

"There's a whole lot of banks out there who want to sell and are doing whatever they can to get the market to come to them," Davies said.

Banks "don't blink an eye to take a $30,000, $40,000 or $50,000 price drop on a $200,000 house," he said.

Weak prices cut two ways, however. They will not make homeowners or developers looking to sell happy, but the decline has contributed to an improvement in the availability of affordable housing in the area.

Some still buy

People buying new homes are interested in smaller homes with finishes and features at least as nice as during the boom times, people in the industry say.

About 90 percent of the homes built by developer Biltmore Farms in its Biltmore Lake community in the Enka area are one of the company's "cottage" designs, which average around 2,200 square feet, said Paul Szurek, the company's chief financial officer.

The homes are significantly smaller and cheaper than those the company was building a few years ago, he said.

James Bound, of local builder Greencraft, sees similar trends.

"Almost every person we're talking to is focused more on quality versus quantity," said Bound, whose company specializes in building homes that are energy efficient and have other environmentally friendly features.

The change in preferences by Biltmore Farms buyers is almost entirely because of a simple desire to pay less, Szurek said, although Figura said other factors at work in the broader market are encouraging buyers to think small.

Aging baby boomers "are feeling they don't want to have a big house and a yard to take care of," Figura said.

Other buyers want to live in more urban neighborhoods, where houses are typically smaller than in the suburbs or are deterred by the environmental impact of larger structures.

Area homebuilders are affected by lower prices for existing homes, Bound said. But, some people are not able to find what they are looking for among the inventory of existing homes or simply want a new home designed to their tastes.

Dale Akins, head of research firm The Market Edge, said the state of the job market is the key factor affecting most of the markets he follows around the Southeast.

Asheville is different because so many buyers here are retirees, he said, but economic factors like the state of the stock market or the housing market wherever newcomers are moving from still make a big difference.

In addition to consumer confidence, a big concern for builders nowadays is getting bank financing, Akins said.

Figures for the fourth quarter of last year do offer some encouragement, but it is too soon to suggest that they are a harbinger of trend toward more building, he said.

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Pies for the troops from Asheville restaurant

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1/27/2012 - Pies for the troops from Asheville restaurant
by Jon Ostendorff - Asheville Citizen Times

Executive Chef Brian Sonaskus holds a tray of brown butter pecan pies at Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville. The restaurant is sending pies to troops in Afghanistan. Executive Chef Brian Sonaskus holds a tray of brown butter pecan pies at Tupelo Honey Cafe in Asheville. The restaurant is sending pies to troops in Afghanistan. / John Fletcher/jfletcher@citizen-times.com
 ASHEVILLE -- Self-proclaimed "Jersey Boy" chef Brian Sonoskus grew up in a big family with a big kitchen.

 Meals were a time to get together and enjoy each others' company. 

So when a local couple bought a pie from his Tupelo Honey restaurant and had it shipped to a soldier stationed overseas during the holidays, he thought about what food has meant in his life and got an idea.

"It has caused quite a stir," he said while pouring the filling into a brown butter pecan pie Thursday morning at his downtown restaurant.

The restaurant is donating 30 pies to soldiers overseas for Valentine's Day in an effort dubbed "Operation Tupelo Pies."

They'll be packed in ice and sent out fresh, the executive chef said.

Tupelo Honey is taking nominations for soldiers, which can be made on its website.

After the first 30 are out the door, Asheville-area residents can buy more for the troops.

People are encouraged to sign a virtual card for the troops at operationtupelopies.com

Sonoskus hopes the pies will give soldiers a taste of home and let them gather around a table somewhere much as he did growing up.

The pies will go to soldiers stationed overseas, including in Afghanistan, where the N.C. National Guard has about 200 troops.

Getting packages from home is a highlight of any deployment, N.C. National Guard Capt. Rick Scoggins said.

"As a guy who has been deployed twice, it was always nice to get something from home and especially something as nice as a pecan pie," he said. "Nothing says home like a pecan pie."

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Asheville area stage productions calendar for the coming weeks.

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1/27/2012 - Asheville area stage productions calendar for the coming weeks.
by Entertainment - Asheville Citizen Times

"100 Years of Broadway," 7:30 p.m. today, Western Carolina University's Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center, Cullowhee. Features five stars of Broadway backed by a live band. $20, $15 faculty/staff, $10 groups of 20 or more, $5 children/students. 227-2479 or www.bardo artscenter.wcu.edu.

"Selected Shorts: Lots of Laughs," 8 p.m. Saturday, Diana Wortham Theatre at Pack Place, Biltmore Avenue, Asheville. Television, stage and screen stars Jill Eikenberry and Michael Tucker perform along with host Isaiah Sheffer. $35, $30 students, $10 student rush day of the show (with valid I.D.) 257-4530 or www.dwtheatre.com.

"Fight Girl, Battle World," to Feb. 5, N.C. Stage Co., 15 Stage Lane. Performances at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Saturday-Sunday. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org.

"Solstice," to Feb. 4, 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Saturday at Magnetic Field, Asheville. A volatile black comedy for the darkest night of the year. $12 Thursdays, $15 Fridays-Saturdays.

"Harbinger 1: Rise of the 'Stache," by the Feral Chihuahuas sketch comedy troupe, 8 p.m. Feb. 3, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Feb. 4, 8 p.m. Feb. 10, 7 and 9:30 p.m. Feb. 11, BeBe Theatre, 20 Commerce St., Asheville. $10 online and $13 at the door. www.feralchihuahuas.com.

"The Importance of Being Earnest," by Aquila Theatre, 8 p.m. Feb. 3, Diana Wortham Theatre, Pack Place. $35, $30 students, $12 ages 12 and younger, $10 student rush day of show. 257-4530. www.dwtheatre.com.

Playback Theatre Technique Workshop, led by theater trainer Hannah Fox from 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Feb. 4, Harvest House, 205 Kenilworth Ave., Asheville. $40. Reservation required. 274-8315.

"Macbeth," by Aquila Theatre, 8 p.m. Feb. 4, Diana Wortham Theatre, Pack Place. $35, $30 students, $12 ages 12 and younger, $10 student rush day of show. 257-4530. www.dwtheatre.com

"Circle Mirror Transformation," free play reading. 5:30 p.m. Feb. 13, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St. Presented by N.C. Stage Company. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org

"Love Child," Feb. 15-March 18, N.C. Stage Co., 15 Stage Lane. Performances at 7:30 p.m Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m Sunday. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org.

"Chicago," Feb. 17-March 11, at Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. 254-1320. www.ashevilletheatre.org.

"For Better," by Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, Feb. 17-26, Performing Arts Center, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, 456-6322. www.hart-theatre.org.

"Rumors," by Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, March 16-April 1, Performing Arts Center, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, 456-6322. www.hart-theatre.org.

"Circle Mirror Transformation," March 28-April 22, N.C. Stage Co., 15 Stage Lane. 7:30 p.m Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m Sunday. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org.

"Hospitality Suite," April 5-28, 35below, lower back level, Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 254-1320. www.ashevilletheatre.org.

"In the Next Room (or The Vibrator Play)," free play reading, 5:30 p.m. April 9, Malaprop's Bookstore/Cafe, 55 Haywood St. Presented by N.C. Stage Company. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org

"To Kill A Mockingbird," April 20-May 6, 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 254-1320. www.ashevilletheatre.org.

"In the Ne xt Room (or the Vibrator Play)", May 9-June 10, N.C. Stage Co., 15 Stage Lane. Performances at 7:30 p.m Wednesday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m Sunday. 239-0263. www.ncstage.org.

"The 25th Annual Putman County Spelling Bee," June 1-17, at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 254-1320. www.ashevilletheatre.org.

"The Odd Couple," Aug. 10-19, at 7:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, Asheville Community Theatre, 35 E. Walnut St. 254-1320. www.ashevilletheatre.org.

"Amadeus," by Haywood Arts Regional Theatre, May 26-June 10, Performing Arts Center, 250 Pigeon St., Waynesville, 456-6322. www.hart-theatre.org.

AUDITIONS

"A Musical Revue," 6:30 p.m. Monday-Tuesday, Greenlee Theatre at MACA, 24 S. Main St., Marion. Play performed March 23-25 at East McDowell Junior High by Foothills Community Theater. 659-PLAY.

"My Favorite Things: The Music of Rodgers and Hammerstein," 2 p.m. Feb. 12 and 7 p.m. Feb. 14, Flat Rock Playhouse. About 40 chorus members needed. Performance dates are Wednesdays March 28-April 22. 685-2257 or e-mail FRPchorus@aol.com.

Musicians needed. Flat Rock Playhouse is accepting resumes and audio/video samples for musicians for 2012 and future seasons at Playhouse Mainstage and Playhouse Downtown and Music on the Rock Concert Series. Instruments needed include piano/synthesizer, guitars of all types, basses both electric and upright, percussion and drum set, violins, cellos, saxes, clarinets, oboe, flutes, piccolo, trumpet, trombone, French Horn, harmonica, accordion and harp. The above list is a sample. Others not listed are also of interest. Rehearsals and performances will take place on Flat Rock Playhouse properties. Mail material to Flat Rock Playhouse, Eric Leach, PO Box 310, Flat Rock, NC 28731.

Annual WNC Theatre League Unified Auditions, Feb. 24-25, A-B Tech's Ferguson Auditorium. Hosted by A-B Tech Drama Club and Montford Park Players. The purpose is to develop a database of local actors and technical artists. Youth auditions 6 p.m. Feb. 24. Auditions and technical interviews for actors, designers, directors, stage managers, musicians and technicians will be 10 a.m.-1 p.m. and 2-5 p.m. Feb. 25. Information workshop 6 p.m. Feb. 1. $30 registration fee. www.unified auditions.org.

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Smokies park looks ahead

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1/25/2012 - Smokies park looks ahead
by Randall Dickerson - AP

 NASHVILLE, TENN. -- Great Smoky Mountains National Park remains the busiest of the nation's parks by far, despite a drop in attendance last year.

 Smokies Superintendent Dale Ditmanson said park officials are looking at new ways to draw visitors. The 500,000-acre forested park on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line drew 9,008,831 visitors last year, down a half-million from 2010. 

The park topped 10 million visitors in 1999 and 2000, and it averaged about 9.3 million visits a year from 2006-10. Park officials believe 2010 got a bump because of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill, with about 9.5 million visitors.

A massive advertising campaign on behalf of Gulf Coast beaches likely dragged down the 2011 numbers.

A spokesman for several commercial attractions in the Smokies foothills agreed.

"All national parks are down, so the Smokies are no exception. I think this year, people just decided to stay closer to home," Rick Laney said.

Laney said the massive advertising campaign designed to lure travelers back to the Gulf Coast had an effect.

Inside the park, any decline is imperceptible, Ditmanson said.

"We're a busy place, and our facilities and our resources are impacted by a lot of use," he said, then added "That's OK. We like people"

Different visitors have differing expectations and needs from their time in the mountains.

"Even today when people come it could be solitude; for others its' a hike to Laurel Falls," Ditmanson said, noting that's a 1-mile walk on a paved trail. "For some of our population, that's as much a wilderness experience as someone else who hikes 10 miles into the backcountry."

While some people drive into the park and aren't bothered that their smart phones signal "no service," others feel disconnected from their electronic world.

There could eventually be an app for that. Ditmanson said the park and its supporting foundations are thinking about applications that could be loaded onto cell phones before the service fades out and called up to direct and inform visitors. The Great Smoky Mountains Association already does podcasts that can be accessed at visitor center book stores in the park.

The Friends of the Smokies, which supports improvements and projects in the park, sees reason to celebrate.

"The new Oconaluftee Visitors Center opened last year on the North Carolina side of the Smokies, and visitation there increased dramatically," said Holly Scott, of the Friends group, which put $500,000 toward educational exhibits for the center.

The Great Smoky Mountains Association contributed $3 million to build the center.

"Park partnerships remain critical to Great Smoky Mountains National Park to ensure it's a destination for folks to come back to," Scott said.

Those partnerships help support educational initiatives. The superintendent noted that the Appalachian Highland Learning Center on the North Carolina side of the park and the Great Smoky Mountains Institute at Tremont in the Tennessee portion are attended by between 5,000 and 6,000 middle school and high school students each year.

Ditmanson also said the Smokies remains the most-visited national park by a large margin.

"You could take any of the next two or three (parks) and add them together and we still have more sheer numbers, he said.

 

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Asheville Animal Hospital Is Going Green With New Solar Panels and New Lighting

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1/25/2012 - Asheville Animal Hospital Is Going Green With New Solar Panels and New Lighting
by Market Watch Press Release

Dr. Mark Ledyard, along with the other veterinarians and staff at the Charlotte Street Animal Hospital in Asheville, NC have announced that the practice is "going green" as part of its ongoing efforts to be environmentally mindful and reduce its carbon footprint. The team of animal healthcare professionals acknowledges that it has always had a deeply-held commitment to the environment and the community, trying to be as paperless and resource conscious as possible. As they welcome the New Year, the staff is taking their stewardship to the next level by installing solar panels and replacing the hospital's existing fluorescent light bulbs with an energy-saving T5 lighting system.

The clinic's commitment to clean energy and sustainability is reflected in the installation of state-of-the-art energy-saving solar panels and lighting. According to the Asheville veterinarians and staff, keeping up with the latest trends in energy conservation also parallels the progressive care that is provided to their pet patients.

Commenting on the practice's dedication to environmental awareness Dr. Ledyard said, "As a veterinarian I care deeply about how humans interact with our animal companions. We do everything we can in our state-of-the-art veterinary facility to provide pain-free healing through advanced pain management, acupuncture, chiropractic care and other progressive care services. We all share the planet with our animal companions. Being good to the environment is being good to them. I think it's important that a vet takes the lead by setting an example of energy awareness for the whole community."

In addition to his responsibilities as owner, Dr. Ledyard also performs soft tissue and orthopedic surgery, root canals and ultrasonography. The animal hospital opened in 1998 and is accredited by the American Animal Hospital Association. Charlotte Street Animal Hospital provides comprehensive veterinary care for dogs, cats, birds, rabbits, small mammals and other exotic pets of all ages. In addition to routine wellness and preventative care, the facility offers pet dental care, veterinary surgery and emergency care.

As part of an integrated, or holistic, approach to pet health and wellness, the hospital also provides pet physical rehabilitation services, including underwater treadmill therapy, pet acupuncture and pet chiropractic care. Cat boarding is provided in a secure and comfortable kennel environment. The building features separate cat and dog entrances, and has on-site pharmacy and diagnostic services.

The vet hospital will stay open throughout the solar panel installation process and continue to provide all aspects of veterinary care for canine, feline and exotic pet patients. The hospital is also still currently sponsoring a pet food and supplies drive that will benefit six animal rescue organizations in the local area.

Further information on Charlotte Street Animal Hospital, the energy-saving renovations, its ongoing commitment to environmental sustainability, and the animal food and supplies drive can be found by visiting the website at http://charlottestreetanimalhospital.com .

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2011 Asheville/Buncombe Real Estate Report

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1/24/2012 - 2011 Asheville/Buncombe Real Estate Report
by Heather Judge

(Download PDF)

2012 is fully upon us! Town and Mountain Realty team is honored to provide this report on our unique real estate market. As we prepare for a historically active real estate season here in the lovely mountains of Western North Carolina, we trust you will find this information helpful in charting your next course of action.Town and Mountain Realty celebrates a major milestone year in 2012. In the last ten years, we have helped guide our buyers and sellers in over 1900 transactions. We are looking forward to continuing to share knowledge, adapt to trends and to provide quality service for our clients. We often do not feel as if we can adequately express our gratitude to our clients, friends and neighbors for the referrals that are the heart of our business. As an independent and local business we truly understand that we do make a difference in ourcommunity, just as choosing Town and Mountain will make a difference in your real estate experience.

Please see the attached PDF and we look forward to helping you in 2012!

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Asheville land trust protects Little Pisgah Mountain in Buncombe County

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1/24/2012 - Asheville land trust protects Little Pisgah Mountain in Buncombe County
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

This photo was taken near the pinnacle of Little Pisgah Mountain looking east into the conservation easement. The area in Fairview owned by the MacKay Family will remain protected from development.

This photo was taken near the pinnacle of Little Pisgah Mountain looking east into the conservation easement. The area in Fairview owned by the MacKay Family will remain protected from development. / Special to the Citizen-Times

Little Pisgah Mountain in Fairview, owned by the MacKay Family will remain protected from development now that it has been placed in a conservation easement.

Little Pisgah Mountain in Fairview, owned by the MacKay Family will remain protected from development now that it has been placed in a conservation easement. / Special to the Citizen-Times

 ASHEVILLE -- Elizabeth MacKay Fisher and her three brothers spent their early adult summers hiking, camping, picnicking and generally drinking in the grandeur of Little Pisgah Mountain in southeastern Buncombe County.

 For flatlanders who lived in Ocala, Fla., the yearly summer visits to their Western North Carolina family property were a slice of paradise. After all these years, Fisher and her brothers and their families decided the land needed to remain forever as in their memories and in its wild state. Late last year they placed 474 acres in a conservation easement valued at $1.5 million with the Asheville-based Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy. 

 "My father, Kenneth MacKay Sr., bought the property in 1960," said Fisher, who lives with her husband, Bob Fisher, in High Vista in Henderson County. 

 "He really loved North Carolina, even though we were from Florida, and had the idea he wanted this beautiful and unspoiled property to be enjoyed by his children and grandchildren for generations to come. And we have. Four generations have enjoyed it." 

 Fisher owns the property in Fairview, which includes the 4,400-foot elevation summit that can be seen from U.S. 74A, the Blue Ridge Parkway and Chimney Rock State Park, with her brothers, George MacKay, Kenneth Jr. "Buddy" MacKay and Alfred MacKay. 

 Buddy and his wife, Anne, have a summer home on the Little Pisgah tract, but otherwise the land is mostly untouched, with high-elevation pasture, rock outcrops and cliffs and forests, crisscrossed with streams, springs and hiking trails. 

The scenic land was ripe for development, said Rich Preyer with the SAHC.

"Being such a vast property and being very visible to the public, it was one of the priority areas that we wanted to preserve," Preyer said of the project that was in the works for 18 months. "It really is a monumental project for us. We're really excited about it."

"I think we all feel we'd like to keep it as beautiful and pristine as the way it always was, with beautiful views and wildlife and trees," Fisher said. "We felt like this generation was the one that needed to make a plan. We were the ones that needed to protect it."

Buncombe County contributed $337,000 toward the project, which was matched by more than $1.2 million in donations by the landowners and a private philanthropist.

Fisher said the assessed value of the land, including more acreage also under conservation easements, is about $3 million.

"The MacKay Family gave by far the lion's share of the value," said Carl Silverstein, SAHC executive director. "They are to be commended. It really is a generous gift."

A conservation easement is a voluntary and permanent agreement that limits certain development on a property in exchange for possible tax benefits, Preyer said. Easements can be tailored to suit the landowner's present and future needs, such as activities relating to farming.

While the conservation easement prohibits any future development or logging, a small parcel of the Little Pisgah land is still available to the MacKay family for six future home sites, but they must be constructed in a way that protects the overall conservation values of the land, he said.

Although the property is not open to the public, the SAHC will be holding guided hikes and some hiking clubs can get permission to access the trails, Preyer said.

More land preserved

The project was one of three wrapped up at the end of 2011 for the SAHC. The land trust also purchased 248 acres in Robinson Cove in the Sandy Mush farming community. The parcel bookends a ridge in the Newfound Mountains that SAHC has been working to protect since the 1990s and will protect the headwaters of a major tributary of Sandy Mush Creek, Silverstein said.

Located at the end of the state-maintained Robinson Cove Road, with excellent access, southern exposure and creeks, the property was attractive for development, Silverstein said.

"It starts in the valley and goes up to the ridge line, right on the Madison County line. It connects with other property we've already protected," he said. "There are some cabins on the property, and our long-term hope would be to fix them so that people from Asheville might be able to spend time out there."

Kate Jayne's family runs the Sandy Mush Herb Nursery, which sits on a 1,000-acre parcel also under conservation easement, near the Robinson Cove tract.

Donations connected

"Luckily these purchases and donations people have made have connected these properties," Jayne said. "This is protecting water supplies and wildlife migration corridors. It's a beautiful valley, with very steep terrain that is good for keeping water safe and trees for clean air. It's a treasure here on the order of some of our national parks."

The SAHC also obtained 88 acres adjoining the Sandy Mush Game Lands, which connects two major pieces of state-owned game lands managed by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. The land was donated to the land trust, Silverstein said, and will be made available to the public in the future for birding and hunting.

"This property will protect a corridor for wildlife in the largest contiguous network of protected lands in this portion of northern Buncombe County," he said.

In all, the Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy protected 5,445 acres in Buncombe County in 2011. The acreage might seem like a lot, Silverstein said, considering one of the land conservancy's main sources of funding, the N.C. Clean Water Management Trust Fund, was cut by 90 percent in the past couple of years. But he said some of the 2011 land purchases made with public dollars had been in the pipeline before the funding cuts.

"Also, our county has been an incredible partner," Silverstien said. "Even with the loss of state and federal government funding, it's a testament to the commitment of county commissioners that they've been able to contain things."

Silverstein said that the SAHC has also been helped by the drop in real estate values that has allowed the agency to compete in purchasing land, and that private donors and philanthropis ts have become familiar and comfortable with the track record of the land conservancy's work over the past four decades.

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Drive back in time on Blue Ridge Parkway

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News

1/24/2012 - Drive back in time on Blue Ridge Parkway
by Karen Chavez - Asheville Citizen Times

 ASHEVILLE -- America's most beloved national park site, the Blue Ridge Parkway, was built for scenic driving.

 But thanks to nearly three years of devoted digitizing by UNC Chapel Hill Library staff and graduate students, it is now open for driving back in time.

The just-launched "Driving Through Time: The Digital Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina," created through a collaborative project based at UNC's library puts everyone in the driver's seat of the parkway's 77-year history.

Click here to view the digital parkway project.

"There are more than 3,000 discrete items, including photographs, maps, news articles, oral histories and essays documenting development and construction of the parkway's North Carolina segment," said Anne Whisnant, adjunct associate professor of history at UNC and the project's scholarly adviser.

"It is the biggest compilation of everything having to do with the history of the parkway."

"Driving Through Time" was funded by a $150,000 grant in 2009 from the federal Institute of Museum and Library Services under provisions of the Library Services and Technology Act, as administered by the State Library of North Carolina. It was a collaboration among the UNC Library, the Blue Ridge Parkway and the North Carolina State Archives in Raleigh.

The site allows users to explore parkway history chronologically, geographically or by dozens of topics, from access roads to wildlife. The "GeoBrowser" feature is one Whisnant believes will be very popular.

"To the degree possible, we have assigned a point location to every item," she said.

"People who love the parkway tend to love a certain place on the parkway. This feature allows you to put in a milepost or place and locate everything having to do with that place, such as Grandfather Mountain."

Another interactive maps feature layers of 77 historical maps atop current road maps and satellite images. Found under the "Explore" tab, it uses GIS software to compare present day sites along the parkway with pre-parkway towns, farms, roads and topography.

"It is a revolutionary way to see what used to be," said Whisnant, a parkway historian who for the past 20 years has been researching the parkway's past, the challenges in building the 469-mile roadway through North Carolina and Virginia, and the controversies it caused.

She is the author of "Super-Scenic Motorway" (UNC Press, 2006) and the children's book "When the Parkway Came" (Primary Source Publishers, 2010).

"I think this is really valuable to the public," parkway superintendent Phil Francis said of "Driving Through Time."

"People always want to see our archives and do research, but they are only open to educational organizations, and you have to make an appointment and go through our archivist. Now, with this collection, it allows people to get it directly online. And it's really interesting stuff."

The collection includes parkway land acquisition maps that were in about 27 boxes at the state archives in Raleigh and parkway land use maps filed at headquarters in Asheville that show how the parkway was built.

Using the two types of maps together show a sort of "before" and "after" parkway story, Whisnant said.

"We have a very large archive collection. We have 500 linear feet of archival materials," parkway museum curator Jackie Holt said. "It is only open to researchers by appointment. This project is a good way of having students and the general public get the history of the parkway.

"I hope it gives a better understanding to the general public. Because we're such a large park, such a linear park, this project will give people a better understanding of what it took to get this road built."

Whisnant said the project is ongoing, although the grant money has run out.

Graduate students will continue to upload 5,000 historic photos (about half of those are no online).

"Down the road, we'd love to do the same treatment with the Virginia side of the parkway," she said.

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ENGAGE WNC: Ways to engage the Asheville-area community this week

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1/23/2012 - ENGAGE WNC: Ways to engage the Asheville-area community this week
by Jason Sanford - Asheville Citizen Times

New Media Gallery opens

 ASHEVILLE - The Asheville Art Museum will hold a preview party celebrating the inaugural exhibition of its New Media Gallery at 7 p.m. Thursday at CityMac and Village Antiques on Biltmore Avenue.

 The exhibition is called "Prime Time: New Media Juried Exhibition." The new gallery will be in the museum's newly expanded east wing, set to open in March. Last fall, the museum invited submissions from North Carolina artists working with screen-based, new media artwork such as video art, experimental animation and time-based media. 

Get your zombie on

ASHEVILLE - ZaPow art gallery will host a "Zombies and Lusty Ladies" party at 7 p.m. Feb. 11 at Suite 101 at 21 Battery Park Ave.

Attendees aren't required to dress up, but costumes are highly recommended. There will be free Wee Heavier beer from French Broad Brewing, live music from The Mad Tea Party and prizes for the best fictional character zombie, best lusty lady zombie and most gruesome zombie.

For more information, check out ZaPow on Facebook or follow the gallery on Twitter @StudioZaPow.

New energy website launched

WASHINGTON - The U.S. Department of Agriculture launched an updated website that will give users quick access to USDA energy-efficiency and renewable energy data.

The site, www.usda.gov/energy, will provide users access to data on agriculture and forestry, as well as economic and social data.

The goal is to increase public awareness of USDA's energy research, commercialization of new technologies and education activities. It also provides a type of technical assistance to people thinking about an energy project.

Rooms to Go celebrates grand opening

ASHEVILLE - Rooms to Go has come to Asheville and celebrated its grand opening on Saturday.

The furniture store is in the former Havertys building on Tunnel Road.

Talk on sustainable tourism set

HIGHLANDS - The director of outreach at the Center for Sustainable Tourism at East Carolina University will talk about tourism as a place-based approach to economic development at 2 p.m. Jan. 31 at First Presbyterian Church of Highlands.

Alex Naar will also discuss success stories from other communities and lessons learned in the field. for more information, go to www.sustainabletourism.org, email mprice@j-mac.org or call 526-0890, ext. 256.

New chairman of the board at Leadership Asheville

ASHEVILLE - There's a new chairman of the Leadership Asheville's board of directors. Bill Treasurer succeeds Charles Frederick, who served as chair for three years and was instrumental in moving the organization into an independent nonprofit.

Treasurer is founder and chief encouragement officer at Giant Leap Consulting. Treasurer participated in Leadership Asheville in 2006.

"Leadership Asheville helped me develop a wonderful network of fellow leaders, learn a ton about our special community and deepen my understanding about leadership," Treasurer said in a statement.

"My aim as chairperson will be to introduce more aspiring leaders to this wonderful program."

Leadership Asheville works to enhance community leadership by developing, connecting and mobilizing residents in the region.

Biltmore Park Town Square honored for design

ASHEVILLE - Biltmore Park Town Square was recognized for its quality design from the International Council of Shopping Centers.

Biltmore Park's urban village won national recognition for innovative design and development of a new project for retail projects at the ICSC U.S. Design and Development Awards event held in Las Vegas.

Pandora music to its own ears

USA TODAY reports that life is good for Pandora, the personalized online radio service.

Founder Tim Westergren's site has more than 125 million registered users, a big jump from 75 million at the same time last year.

Pandora has expanded its reach into the car with 16 alliances -- including new ones with Kia and Acura -- compared with four car companies at this time last year.

Monthly listening, on average per user, is now at 18 hours, and shares of its stock are up 21 percent this year, USA TODAY reports.

Coming off a successful $2.6 billion IPO in 2011, Westergren says the company is at the "tipping point" of expanding beyond the early adopters into a service that he says will one day be utilized by billions of consumers.

Forum on green building

HENDERSONVILLE - The Environmental and Conservation Organization's Green Energy and Sustainability Committee will hold a forum on green building at 6:30 p.m. Thursday in the organization's conference room in Hendersonville. The event is titled "Lessons from green homeowners, their success and challenges." Questions will be answered by owners of green homes. George Tregay, the committee chairman, said people want to know how ownership of such homes has worked out in terms of planning and as an investment. Call 692-0385 or visit www.eco-wnc.org

Engage us

Do you have an announcement, an event or other news to share? If so, please email Jason Sandford at jsandford@citizen-times.com

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