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Asheville: Farms, Films, Forests...

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/03/03)


By Mark Barrett, Staff Writer

SKYLAND - John F.A.V. "Jack" Cecil says he has worked since he was 13 or 14, starting out milking cows, mucking out stables, baling hay, painting and taking on electrical and plumbing jobs.

He never particularly liked the building trades.

So he sees a little irony in the fact that the family company he runs today, Biltmore Farms, has developed the two of the largest residential building projects in Buncombe County during the past decade or so, Biltmore Park and Biltmore Lake.

Of course, at a company directly or indirectly responsible for the construction of hundreds of homes, the president doesn't need to get out and hammer nails himself.

"I wasn't very good at carpentry," Cecil says. "I don't necessarily like construction. I just like the end product."

There has been a lot of end product. In addition to its two planned communities, Biltmore Farms and related companies were involved in the development of two hotels on Hendersonville Road, a south Asheville shopping center and Biltmore Square Mall, which is now under different ownership.

It isn't exactly the dairy business Cecil came back home to be a part of in the mid-1980s, but he says it is in line with the heritage of his great-grandfather, George W. Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt established the Biltmore Estate not just with a huge, grand house, but as a working estate producing a variety of products - and with a planned community, Biltmore Village.

For decades, Biltmore Dairy Farms was one of the region's larger agriculture-related businesses, run in conjunction with the rest of Biltmore Estate.

Vanderbilt's heirs split the family assets in the late 1970s. Biltmore Dairy Farms, now more commonly known as Biltmore Farms, became a separate operation with separate ownership from the Biltmore House and grounds, which are controlled by The Biltmore Co.

Jack Cecil worked for four years with an international company based in California with holdings in dairy, alcoholic beverages and medical products with the idea of learning how to run the family dairy farm and milk processing business. But a few months after he got back, the family sold the business to a larger competitor.

What Cecil, his father, George H.V. Cecil, and other family members were left with were some buildings and lots of land, thousands of acres that had once been part of Vanderbilt's estate.

"You have this tract of land here, and either you can sell it to someone and retire and sail off into the sunset or . you could be good stewards of the property and build the community of Asheville-Buncombe County," Jack Cecil said. "That's the route we took."

The company started Biltmore Park in the early 1990s, and the development has marched down Long Shoals Road since. The construction of single-family homes, to total more than 500, is in its latter stages. One residential street almost bumps up against the Blue Ridge Parkway at one point, visible just a few yards away.

The development has shown the depth of the market for more expensive homes in a county where income figures trail national averages.

Biltmore Park has touted the community's walking trails and green space, retail and office center, and proximity to local schools. Families with kids and without have responded: streets and paths were alive with children on a recent sunny afternoon.

"It's a good house, good view, good neighborhood," resident Daxa Patel said. "It's very safe."

There is still room for more office, retail and multifamily residential development in addition to the two large apartment complexes, Volvo Construction Equipment's North American headquarters, a retail and office building and an office/industrial building that have already been built.

Biltmore Farms recently announced plans for two more commercial buildings and long-range plans provide room for several more.

At the same time, Biltmore Farms is in the midst of work on Biltmore Lake, planned to contain more than 800 homes on the former BASF property around Enka Lake.

The company and some partners bought 1,300 acres in Enka in 2001. Biltmore Farms is handling the single-family homes end of the development. Partners are developing retail space, an industrial park and have sold some property for an apartment complex.

Jack Cecil said the company and its employees try to work in five building blocks of community: education, health care, economic development, culture and environmental sustainability.

Some residents of the Enka-Candler area have not been impressed. There has been criticism of various aspects of the community, even including the Biltmore Lake name, which some nearby residents feel ignores the area's history.

Cecil said Biltmore Farms has tried to develop in an environmentally responsible way and notes that a small portion of home sales in Biltmore Lake goes to set up a foundation to benefit community organizations.

American Enka, a Dutch-owned company, set up a massive textile mill in the area during the first half of the 20th century and built homes and some community services around it. Cecil says the company leaders' intentions for setting up a planned community were never fully realized.

"History's given us an opportunity to execute what the Dutch had in mind in the very beginning," he said.

Biltmore Lake probably will not be the last development Biltmore Farms does, although Cecil is not ready to say what might come next.

A company official said last year that preliminary planning had begun on a golf course community on property to the northeast of Biltmore Park.

Biltmore Farms still owns large areas of undeveloped land. They include extensive holdings in a horseshoe bend of the French Broad River, generally to the east of the point where the Blue Ridge Parkway crosses the river, and near where the parkway crosses Sweeten Creek Road.

Cecil would only say that there have been discussions: "We sort of drive that ball all the time," he said.

Biltmore Farms may also look at another sector. The company has focused on more expensive homes and apartments in the upper end of that market at a time when the community it works in has experienced a dearth of more affordable homes.

Affordable housing has been a topic of discussion in the company, Cecil said, but the company has not yet found an opportunity.

"We have looked at all of this, say, two or three times. and we're trying to figure out what's the right balance between doing the right thing in the community and what's right corporate-wise," he said.

Contact Barrett at 232-5833 or [email protected]


*hauntedheadnc sez, "Biltmore is a quality company and these are quality projects. They mix uses and utilize attractive architecture. The developments mentioned here look barren now, but will be stunning when their trees and landscaping mature. I can't help but wonder though, if they're a little too large and a little too close to the Blue Ridge Parkway to really be called smart growth."*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/03/03)



Communities around the world have known for years that the phrase "Lights, camera, action" can translate into opportunities, jobs and an economic boost - whether the term is used during the filming of movies, commercials and television or as an introduction to a film festival. On Thursday, Asheville will join those communities like Atlanta, Savannah, San Francisco, New York, Park City, Venice and Toronto when the first annual Asheville Film Festival has its debut.

For our own resident movie star, Andie MacDowell, and film pioneers in Asheville like John Cram, Lee Nesbitt, Ken Schapira, Peter Loewer, Anne Kimmel Watkins, and those who have more recently joined the ranks, like Marty Keener Cherrix, Mike Rangel and Kurt Mann, this festival is the next natural step in our film-rich history. We even have the recently-located movie studio, Blue Ridge Motion Pictures.

When the previous City Council enthusiastically appointed the Asheville Film Commission, talk turned to the possibility of an Asheville Film Festival. The commission, in collaboration with the Parks and Recreation Department's Cultural Arts Division, formed the Film Festival Advisory Committee, which sought and got the eager support of the current City Council.

The word went out and the volunteers, participants and films poured in, creating an opportunity to tap into the abundance of talent and artists living in this film-loving, filmmaking community.

Asheville and Western North Carolina are in one of the top three filmmaking states in the country. But the film industry, like so many others, is jeopardized because movie- making is going overseas, out of America, diminishing the opportunities for jobs usually supported by the film industry - jobs for pre- and post-production technicians, artists, electricians, carpenters, caterers, seamstresses, restaurants, hotels, transportation, advertising and marketing, musicians and the list goes on.

In addition, the making of films is a great promotion for tourism.

Direct revenue from the feature film industry alone was $20 million to our local economy. In 2001, film, television and commercial production put $251 million into North Carolina's economy, third only to California and New York, but that figure was $504 million in 1993. The loss of those monies is directly related to the fact that wages and production costs are more attractive elsewhere. More than 15 professional organizations have joined with the coalition US FILM to gather support for the U.S. Independent Film and Television Production Incentive Act of 2001, which would create a tax incentive program similar to the one offered by Canada. The credit is available only if total wages, or labor costs, are more than $100,000 and less than $10 million.

Some states are taking other steps to bring movies back to the United States. Texas exempts production companies 100 percent from state and local sales taxes on much of what is rented or purchased. They give an up-front exemption by filling out a single- page claim form. If the company spends more than 30 days in the state, it is exempt from a portion of the hotel occupancy tax. In addition, the company can claim refunds for sales tax paid on off-road fuel, like for boats or generators. Another way Texas competes is because it has a terrific professional base of support services, crew personnel and equipment vendors. Because of that, 75 to 80 percent of the crew is hired locally.

Asheville and North Carolina could be highly competitive with other states and other countries. The state devised a film grant program in 2000 to "stimulate economic activity and to create jobs and employment opportunities within the sstate." It lays out a "public purpose" for the grant. But the Institute for Justice has filed a lawsuit saying it doesn't serve a "public purpose." Don Hobart, legal counsel at the Department of Commerce, says the lawsuit's claims are simply wrong.

So, in addition to great entertainment, the festival will provide a wonderful opportunity for dialogue. Just prior to the festival's opening, together with state and local officials, the City of Asheville and members of the Asheville Film Commission and the Film Festival Committee will meet with Gov. Mike Easley, who has been invited to brainstorm ideas that will rev up the economic engine of film, like supporting the grant program found in the state Senate's proposed budget.

The Asheville Film Commission was established to advance the film industry in WNC and to promote film opportunities in our region.

We intend to carry out our mission by advocating for an environmentally-friendly industry that will provide jobs for local residents, build on our strong cultural history, create a film-friendly community and have a fun time at the annual Asheville Film Festival.

Leni Sitnick is former mayor of Asheville and the chair of the Asheville Film Commission. The Asheville Film Festival runs Nov. 6 - 9 in downtown Asheville. For more information, visit



By Paul Clark, Staff Writer

ASHEVILLE - Asheville Film Festival organizers have cemented visits by representatives from major motion picture film distributors during the festival, happening Thursday through next Sunday.

Filmmakers enter festivals largely to show their work to people who love movies. But many, if not most, secretly or publicly hope their films are picked up by a company that has the resources to print, distribute and advertise them.

"Having one picked up, you have recognition for your next film. It's extremely valuable," said Lyle Laney, a 30-year- old Asheville actor/director whose feature "Everything in Between" will be shown 12:30 p.m. Friday at the Fine Arts Theater. Laney invested $30,000 and more than three years of his life in the film.

"Eating Raoul," produced by now-Asheville resident Anne Kimmel Watkins, was a quirky, black comedy that 20th Century Fox bought after seeing it at the 1981 Seattle Film Festival.

"It was a whole new world," Watkins remembers. "We knew we had a wonderful movie, but it was wonderful to have that opinion shared with people that were not our friends and family.

"It's still making money. I just got a check from it a couple of months ago."


*hauntedheadnc sez, "Fantastic! More prestige for Asheville and a spotlight on yet another facet of the arts in which we excel!"*

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From the Asheville Citizen-Times (11/03/03)


By Paul Clark, Staff Writer

BENT CREEK - The U.S. Forest Service is proposing to reduce the number of miles of mountain-bike trails affected by its research in the Bent Creek Experimental Forest.

The proposal, open for public comment for 30 days, also restores most affected trails to their existing condition once the research activities are completed.

"This time around they took the recreational users into consideration," said Michele Trantham, a member of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club.

Bent Creek Experimental Forest is one of the oldest research forests in the country, doing such work as restoring the American Chestnut, which was nearly wiped out by blight in the early 1900s.

Projects there are visited by scientists from all over the world. And because the 6,300-acre forest is so close to Asheville, so many runners, bikers and hikers use it that, on weekends, it's hard to find a place to park.

"It's amazing how much traffic it gets, not only from locals, but also from people who come from all over the U.S. to ride here," said Jody Pogue, shop manager at Bio Wheels, a bike shop in Asheville.

The Forest Service upset the biking community in May when it announced that it wanted to turn parts of some trail, including the popular Side Hill and Little Hickory Top trails, into gravel roads to access areas where timber- cutting projects are planned. Local bikers, contending they'd been left out of the planning process, were mad that the projects would keep them off the affected trails.

Heeding their concerns, the Forest Service in June said it would consider new alternatives that had less impact on riders using the trails.

The new plan reduces the number of miles of trail to be affected. Thirty-six of the 39 miles of designated trails will be completely unaffected, and two miles will be only temporarily impacted to provide access to research plots. A little more than one mile will be permanently upgraded to drive researchers to demonstration areas. The road will be available to bike riders, though it will be closed to public vehicles.

The revision gets mixed marks from Mike Nix, president of the Blue Ridge Bicycle Club.

"One of the best pieces of single-track (trail), Ledford Branch to Boyd Branch, is going to be lost," he said, when it is turned into a gravel road. "It's just `technical' enough for the beginner to mid-level bike riders to enjoy.

"The happy part is that for families with (bike) carts and trailers, the trail will be more family-friendly. It opens up a nice loop of gravel road for the less-adventurous."

The Forest Service had planned all along to turn the roads back to trails, once the timber cutting was done, David Loftis, Bent Creek Experimental Forest project leader, said.

"While the primary mission of Bent Creek is to conduct long-term forest research and demonstration of results," Loftis said, "we believe that if carefully planned and managed, the area can continue to provide outstanding recreation opportunities."

To check out the plan:

The revised Bent Creek Complex environmental assessment plan is available at for a 30- day public comment period. For more, call Michael Hutchins, project interdisciplinary team leader, 682-6146.


*hauntedheadnc sez, "More good news -- more of an important area attraction will remain, if not undisturbed, at least restored when the US Forestry Service gets done. Keep those bicyclists coming back!"*

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