Deluxe Resort Will Bring Jobs. Are They Worth $2.3 Million?
The $75 million resort, which will include RV sites and other lodging, is hailed as boosting the county's tax base and creating 128 jobs. But many will be in the already prominent service sector.
BREVARD — It could be worse, said Jeff Patterson, as he looked from the lawn behind his condominium to the gentle, open slopes of what was once the Glen Cannon Country Club.
As much as he enjoys the view of the former golf course, he realizes neighbors can’t control what’s built on the property, he said. And Sun Communities Inc., the company behind the $75-million Sun Outdoors resort planned for this land, caters to well-heeled tourists, including owners of recreational vehicles.
“It doesn’t look like they do anything cheap,” Patterson, 64, president of one of Glen Cannon’s condominium associations, said about Sun. “I’d rather (the land) go to somebody who is going to invest some money and cater to an upscale audience.”
But Patterson, a retired police chief who works remotely for the U.S. Forest Service, is worried about erosion and other environmental impacts of the planned project, which would include lodging as well as RV sites.
Other residents raised concerns about the Transylvania County Commission’s promise of up to $2.3 million in tax incentives for the creation of 128 jobs, many of them in the service sector, and carrying an average annual salary less than $3,300 higher than in the county as a whole.
And echoing the main concern of several county residents who spoke at Monday’s Commission meeting, Patterson said more information should have been presented to the public before commissioners pledged their support.
“Secrecy always raises suspicion and for good reason,” Patterson said.
That veil of confidentiality was lifted Tuesday by Bill Raffoul, a senior vice president for Sun Communities, who provided details of the company and its plans.
“Sun Communities is one of the largest owners of RV resorts and we’re also the largest owner of marinas in the country,” Raffoul said.
Though final plans for the project and even its feasibility depend on Sun’s ability to provide utilities, he said, the company intends to build a total of about 200 lodging spaces, including RV sites.
“We’ll also have unique cabin options — think of a deconstructed hotel — as well as potentially glamping tents and luxury tree houses,” he said.
Those tree houses would be built “on a raised platform,” he said, to provide improved views and a feeling of immersion in the remaining forested areas of the property.
It will occupy the roughly 90 acres of the 150-acre former golf course — owned by Brevard business person Josh Leder — that is not used by existing tenant Skyterra Wellness Retreat. And as Patterson suggested, the company pledges to be a good neighbor, Raffoul said.
He compared the project to deluxe Sun Outdoors resorts in Colorado and Santa Barbara, Calif.
It will be an “absolute gem in the county,” he said. “We will be enhancing the beauty of the site and we think this will be something the community will be very happy to have.”
Are the Jobs Worth It?
Commissioners certainly were happy, touting the project as a major economic development coup, bringing both jobs and a needed boost to the county’s tax base that, they said, justified the incentive package approved unanimously on Monday.
Under the agreement, which is based on the county’s previously approved economic development scorecard, the project will receive reimbursements on 80 percent of the property taxes paid on new investment over the next eight years, worth a maximum of $2.3 million.
Those benefits only kick in if the jobs pay an annual average salary of $45,531, according to a document presented to the Commission. That compares to a countywide average of $42,179.
“This is 128 full-time jobs that exceed the average salary for Transylvania County. This is an investment of $75 million . . . This is extremely significant for our community,” Commission Chairman Jason Chappell said Monday.
“I think it’s a feather in Burton’s cap to put this thing together,” said Commissioner Emmett Casciato, referring to the work of Burton Hodges, executive director of the Transylvania Economic Alliance.
The jobs will include positions in real estate and management, Raffoul said, but also in housekeeping and property maintenance.
“It’s no secret what we’re building is a tourism-centric development,” he said, “and many of the jobs will support the tourism-centric function.”
“They are talking about service jobs,” said Roger Weaver, president of the Glen Cannon Property Owners Association. The county already has an abundance of such employment, he said, “and we can’t get the people to fill those jobs now. How are you going to (fill) 128 more?”
Former Commission Chair Mike Hawkins, currently a board member of the Alliance and the NC Rural Center economic development organization, said the project shows it's probably time to rethink the incentive standards, a process that should start with the Alliance.
“Pot calling the kettle black, because I was not just there, I was one of the drivers of formulating the policy” in 2015, he said. But the standards are “dated,” he said, and should be re-imagined to better reflect the county’s goal of attracting high-wage employment.
“I just get tired of the portrayal that companies are doing us a favor, that Company X is doing us a favor by employing 120 people at a certain wage level. Well, no, they’re not. They are doing that because that’s what is required to run their business,” he said. “When we give them incentives, I think we need a higher bar.”
Chappell and Hodges both said that, while welcoming higher-paying manufacturing jobs, they are committed to building all sectors of the economy.
“To be successful in economic development, you cast a broad net and try to recruit different sectors and different kinds of businesses,” Chappell said after the meeting.
“If you try to put all your eggs in one basket that can lead to some dangerous situations if that portion of the economy flips upside down.”
The Path Ahead
Both of them also said that withholding details of the development — called “Project Moon” on the meeting agenda — is allowed under state law.
Hodges did not name the location or any other details of the project at the meeting, and even releasing the company’s name — which he did do at the meeting — is not required by state statute, he said.
The law recognizes the need for confidentiality during negotiations with potential investors, but requires full disclosure “once a specific location has been determined.”
That has not yet happened, Hodges said, because of uncertainty over how the company will provide sewer and water services. Another factor is the planned rerouting of nearby Wilson Road.
“There’s not a real estate commitment, nor is it an irrevocable commitment,” he said. “It’s not a done deal.”
Irrevocable or not, Raffoul said, “we are fully committed . . . we’re doing everything in our power to advance the project.”
But he also said “we are still in the process of working through the feasibility elements and what the county has done for us is a huge milestone in helping us achieve that,” he said, referring to the incentives.
The company is exploring a connection to the city of Brevard’s utilities, he said. The homes in Glen Cannon are currently served by wells and septic tanks, and Raffoul said the company is also considering the possibility of providing utilities onsite.
Hodges said he has shared information about the project with Brevard staffers, but City Manager Wilson Hooper said he hasn’t heard directly from the company.
Leder’s property is not in the county’s lone zoning district, nor does it fall under the city’s extraterritorial jurisdiction (ETJ), said Brevard Planning Director Paul Ray.
Properties served by city utilities are typically annexed, he said, though the City Council has the power to waive that requirement. Erosion control is regulated by the state, and if the property is annexed it would also fall under city development rules governing stormwater runoff and including a host of other requirements, Ray said.
“Dimensional standards, architectural standards, environmental standards. All of it,” he said. “It’s a trade off.”
Once again, the existing taxpayers get screwed….more likely than not, hands were greased by a wealthy land owner, Josh Leder. After purchasing the Glen Canyon golf course property, Mr. Leder had pissed off Glen Cannon residents with vindictive acts. Like we need more traffic with large RVs on tiny country roads and more strain on the landfill, water and sewer infrastructures. To shout out the creation of essentially minimum wage service jobs as a benefit is like saying farts don’t smell.
I don't see the logic of offering tax credits to a business that will employ mostly service related jobs for which we currently don't have enough workers. Transylvania is losing it's charm by encouraging exploitation of our natural resources without the tax burden that it's current citizens are carrying.