Tar Heel Tattler - August 2007
To hear Leonard Cottom talk, Seven Devils is going to hell in a handbasket. The mountain town, which had a population of just 129 in the 2000 census but swells to many times that during the summer, might use eminent domain to take his golf course. He doesn’t want to sell it and wonders how Seven Devils could pay for it. The 18-hole, 105-acre course, he says, is probably worth 10 times the town’s $1.5 million annual budget.
That scares Mayor Bob Dodson. Courts ultimately resolve the value of property in contested condemnation cases. “If it goes to a jury,” the mayor says, “who knows what they’d do?” It might not come to that. The Town Council recently discussed leasing the links, an idea that Cottom, who owns the Hawksnest ski resort above the town, has not nixed.
Like many of the town’s snowbirds, who flee southward in the winter, Cottom comes from Florida. He retired to nearby Beech Mountain from Miami in 1975 and with his partners bought Hawksnest, a ski resort above the town, in 1992. They later bought the golf course.
Hawksnest has been the source of some of the bad blood between Cottom and the town. In 1997, when Cottom threw a party for college students, town police got wind of it and called in reinforcements. Nearly 50 cops crashed the event, leaving Cottom with $8,000 in booze and pizza. Youth are still wary of his place.
The latest strain in the relationship came after Cottom closed the golf course last year. Storms had damaged it, he says, and hardly any townspeople played there, which contributed to losses of up to $140,000 a year. Now weeds and briers are reclaiming it. “It’s an eyesore,” says Town Manager Brad Lambert. The town’s options include shortening the course to nine holes and building a park there.
But Cottom has plans for the land, too. He anticipates his ski crowds will double in a few years. “I’m going to have to park all those people somewhere,” he says. That riles townsfolk less than the prospect — which Cottom shrugs off — that he might build condos there.
So, who’s ahead? In late June, Cottom said he had got 212 petition signatures supporting him, which might seem unlikely in a town of 129 residents. Not so. The official census was taken off-season, says the mayor, who figures Seven Devils’ summer population reaches more than 1,000.
At a recent Town Council meeting, 11 speakers opposed taking the course by eminent domain, nine favored it, and eight said Seven Devils has no business puttering with golf.