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‘Conservation buyer’ eyes unfinished Abersham site

The 229-acre Abersham project was never built. (David Boraks/DavidsonNews.net)

The 229-acre Abersham project was never built. (David Boraks/DavidsonNews.net)

By DAVID BORAKS
DavidsonNews.net

Could the failed 229-acre Abersham development have an unexpected new chapter ahead? The director of the Davidson Lands Conservancy said last week that a “conservation buyer” is negotiating to buy the entire site from two banks that own it.

Abersham was supposed to become a neighborhood of 59 $1 million-plus “custom estates” on multi-acre lots, but it fell victim to the economy and a lack of demand for big homes. Fifth Third Bank foreclosed on the project’s 128-acre Phase I, while Community One Bank holds a mortgage on the remainder.

Phase I went on the market last summer for $3 million. And according to Roy Alexander of Davidson Lands Conservancy, there’s a chance the property could be spared development, or significantly preserved.

“There is a conservation buyer in the picture,” Mr. Alexander said last week. The buyer, whom he did not name, is negotiating with both banks to buy the entire property.

If a sale were to go through, it’s possible the property wouldn’t be developed, he said.

About 100 acres of the property previously were subject to a conservation easement, which would restrict development. But the letter of intent that outlined that agreement “is worthless now,” Mr. Alexander said. A buyer with an interest in conservation could change the picture.

In a 2007 marketing package, local developer Frank Jacobus and his partners promised “panoramic forests,” “towering treasures” of homes and “great meadows.” Instead, the 59-home project wound up in foreclosure and bankruptcy, with lenders and investors battling over the right to sell the real estate to reduce their losses. To date, only one home has been built in the development.

Fifth Third held a $6 million mortgage on its portion of the project. Last spring, a federal bankruptcy judge gave Fifth Third permission to complete its foreclosure and take possession of Phase I. Community One Bank holds a $3 million mortgage on Phase 2 of Abersham.

Any buyer would likely have to work with Community One as well as the town of Davidson and the Davidson Lands Conservancy, which worked on the project’s original conservation restrictions.

Last summer, Fifth Third hired Gibson Smith Realty Co. of Charlotte to begin marketing the 128-acre first phase. A spokesman this week would not discuss any possible negotiations. “I can confirm that we continue to actively market the property, as it remains available for sale,” said H.P. Smith, a partner in the firm.

RELATED COVERAGE

Aug. 18, 2010, “Abersham Phase I goes on the market for $3M”

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