Vive la difference...and similarities

The views from Balsam Mountain Preserve are compelling.  From the 8th tee, you can see out to the Arnold Palmer golf course's 14th hole and to the distant mountains. (All photos by L. Gavrich)


Positive altitudes:  Balsam Mountain Preserve and Bright's Creek residents breathe a rarified air

    Unsolicited advice to the developers of Balsam Mountain Preserve and Bright's Creek:  Consider a co-op marketing arrangement.  Both your high-end communities play to the same crowd by offering home sites at high elevations, high-class amenities, including lush and scenic golf, and the service to match.  Ignore a few differences, like the designer, elevation and degree of difficulty of your golf courses, and your two communities could pass for siblings.  Those in your target audience who do their research and make plans to visit one of your communities are likely to visit the other, just an hour away.  All you need is to make sure you provide good driving directions.


(No) signs of the times
    Balsam Mountain Preserve and Bright's Creek hide their considerable charms behind veils of no-signage, so much so that a gas station owner just a few miles from Bright's Creek had to drag out a map to figure out where the four-year old community was located (it turned out to be only two left turns away).  And I almost sped past the road into Balsam Mountain, whose sign is hard to see from across the road; fortunately, I had memorized the directions on a billboard five miles from the community.  When I asked my two contacts at the gated communities why the lack of signs, both had almost the same response:  "People know how to find us."

    The no-signage issue carries over to the golf courses at both communities; neither has a stone or sign at tee boxes to indicate the number of the hole or a layout (needed especially at Balsam

My pitching wedge carried about seven yards farther on Balsam Mountain.

Mountain).  The courses both feature dramatic mountain views but play at significantly different levels; my pitching wedge traveled about seven yards farther at Balsam Mountain than it did at Bright's Creek (more about the golf courses tomorrow).  Both private golf clubs only permit memberships from among their pools of property owners.  Membership fees are on the high side, $75,000 for Balsam and $55,000 for Bright's Creek, but these are high-class clubs and both fees are of the "deposit" variety; you get them back when you depart.  Club dues at Balsam are currently about $1,000 per year more than at Bright's Creek, but the former provides more in the way of amenities at present than the younger Bright's Creek.  Look for dues to be similar in a few years.  Because of its higher elevations, Balsam Mountain's golf course is closed December to April.  Bright's Creek remains open all year, owing to some thermal idiosyncrasies in the Lake Lure area that keep the thermometer above freezing much of the winter.
    In terms of location, Balsam Mountain gets a slight nod for its proximity to the charming and bustling town of Waynesville, just 15 minutes away.  Both communities are about 30 minutes from Asheville and its decent regional airport.  As Bright's Creek develops, so too will the services in the immediate surrounding area but, for now, it is fair to say those who count on shopping and a choice of restaurants will make the drive to Asheville.


Plenty of room
    The two communities are attracting primarily second-home owners but they also appeal to retirees.  The exteriors of the beautiful homes in both communities feature indigenous materials, like wood and stone that integrate comfortably into the mountain terrain.  Although both communities are huge -- Balsam Mountain at 4,400 acres and Bright's Creek 5,000 acres -- the densities are significantly different, at least on paper.  With only 350 homes planned for Balsam Mountain, the density is about one home per 12 acres; but on the severely sloped and heavily wooded property, with homes nestled into the sides of hills, it is difficult to tell where one home site ends and the next begins.  And you see few homes from the golf course.  With almost 3,000 "raw" acres protected by a conservation easement, Chaffin & Light organized the Balsam Mountain Trust, which manages and helps protect the preserve's natural resources.   That will certainly help Balsam Mountain retain its rustic and natural look.
    Bright's Creek, with 1,200 homes planned for its 5,000 acres, runs at a ratio of about 1 to 4, enough breathing room for any but the most reclusive homeowner.  The few homes and staked-out properties I saw from the golf course foreshadow that few of them are likely to encroach on the fairways.  Homes at Bright's Creek will rise to elevations as high as 3,200 feet, about 1,400 feet less than the loftiest homes at Balsam Mountain.  Bright's Creek currently has 31 homes completed and Balsam Mountain 37, with another 16 under construction.    

    Strong hands are guiding the architectural guidelines in both communities; anyone looking to build their dream home in a dramatic contemporary style, for example, should look elsewhere.

Both are large communities, at 5,000 and 4,400 acres, and you are unlikely to live too close to your neighbor.

Standards of quality are high at Balsam Mountain and Bright's Creek, and not surprisingly, prices begin at significant elevations as well.  Expect to pay $1.2 million and more for a home in Balsam Mountain; Bright's Creek prices begin just short of $1 million, although published lot prices are as low as $200,000 (they start at $375,000 at Balsam).  Count on anywhere between $200 and $300 per square foot for construction.  Homeowner association fees at Balsam Mountain are $2,800 per year, about double what they are currently at Bright's Creek, but the older Balsam has more infrastructure in place.  HOA fees will tend to converge in the coming few years.  

    For the vacation-home owner who will only visit a few weeks per summer and would like to generate some extra income on the off weeks, both communities offer rental programs.  Bright's Creek will rent owners' homes as a courtesy, but only to other members and their guests, and at a 30% management fee for housekeeping and maintenance.  Balsam Mountain Preserve also permits its residents to rent to other residents who might need some extra space for visiting relatives and friends.


Membership has its privileges
    For those who do not want to make the leap into full ownership of a million dollar home, Balsam Mountain offers an attractive fractional ownership plan for one bedroom cottages adjacent to the Boarding House, an inn and dining hall for the use of members and guests.  These cottages are available for $260,000 and provide the owner with a guaranteed three weeks stay per season, or a total of 12 weeks per year.  Additional weeks are available if other owners are not using the unit.  The fractional ownership plan is an excellent way to dip your toe into the Balsam Mountain community and decide later if a single-family home is the way to go, or to spend one-quarter of the year in the mountains.    
    Bright's Creek also offers a way for future owners to test the waters.  Adjacent to its pro shop and overlooking the golf course, the Members Lodge provides units for those considering a

It was the best shower I have ever taken; it cleaned and massaged.

purchase of real estate in the community, as well as for visiting members.  I stayed in one of the 12 comfortable guest rooms; it featured a large bedroom and deck overlooking the 18th hole, wireless Internet service and a large television with satellite television (plenty of stations if you can figure out the idiosyncrasies of the two remote controls).   The huge stall shower in the full-featured bathroom included a sitting area and the single best showerhead I've encountered.  The thing was about a foot in diameter and sent a spray of water straight down that was so intense, it cleaned and massaged all in one.  I did worry about the huge amounts of water it was throwing out but was assured later that the flow was not unusually large.  Probably best not to ask too many questions after such an indulging experience.  (Note:  As is my policy, I paid for my lodging and golf).  A new clubhouse and group of 10 condos will join the Members Lodge to form a clubhouse complex perched above the 18th hole.
    The amenities in both communities, those in place and those planned, are pretty much what you would expect from high-quality developments at these price points.   Clubhouses are still on the drawing board, but both will feature dramatic mountain views and warm, rustic materials (lots of logs and beams).  Each community features a substantial equestrian center.  Bright's Creek offers a 14-stall post & beam barn, 20 acres of pasture and 12 miles of groomed riding trails.  The barn at Balsam Mountain also features 14 stalls as well as pastures and riding trails.  The other amenities on both properties include the typical fare of fitness centers, tennis courts, pools and walking trails.  
    For those who prefer to use a golf cart in the community and on the golf course, Bright's Creek charges an annual trail fee of $1,100 (the cart must be of the same style as those rented on the golf course).  Balsam Mountain Preserve offers the same cart ownership program for $900 annually.  Open-air driving is the best way to enjoy the many visual delights of both these communities.
    Coming Tomorrow:  The golf courses at Balsam Mountain Preserve and Bright's Creek (with photos)


One of the first homes at Bright's Creek looks down on the Tom Fazio course.



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