The excavation activity by the City of Johnson City to a portion of the Buffalo Valley Golf Course has ceased for the time being. However, many homeowners are concerned that the work is unnecessary and negatively impacting the course’s aesthetics and ultimately their home values. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kendal Groner)

By Kendal Groner

After the Town of Unicoi withdrew its offer to the City of Johnson City to purchase Buffalo Valley Golf Course two weeks ago, homeowners passionate about seeing the course up and running again are exploring options to form a homeowners association or community organization with plans to ultimately manage and market the course.

“We’re calling this organization Buffalo Valley Golf Course Community,” said Steve Williams. “We’ve had so much outreach from citizens of the Town of Erwin and the county, that we didn’t want to create an organization that is exclusive to just the property owners.”

Recently, several golf course property owners and community members interested in supporting the course sat down at the Maple Grove Restaurant to discuss the payment of an attorney’s retainer fee to investigate the homeowner’s rights.

“The attorney is doing research at the courthouse to see if we have any restrictive covenants or property rights as it pertains to the original development,” Williams said.

Williams also said about 40 percent of the property owners attended the meeting at the Maple Grove Restaurant and he was surprised at the financial contributions people were eager and prepared to make to cover the attorney’s costs.

“The ones (homeowners) that couldn’t be there, they did even contact us and let us know they had prior engagements,” he said. “We even had people from the adjacent subdivisions attend. They’re concerned about their home values too and what’s going to happen. What we got from the meeting is pretty much people want to move forward with the retainer fee from the attorney.”

Such a high percentage of those that attended the meeting were willing to contribute towards the attorney’s fees that Williams said he and Brandy Bevins, another homeowners leading efforts to protect the course, were unprepared to accept and collect all of the funds.

However, Williams said they have since been able to collect about 80 percent of the retainer fee already after compiling the contributions of about 16 people.

“We have some people that have contributed that aren’t even in the neighborhood,” he said. “Pretty much everyone’s agreed that we either need to revitalize the existing homeowners association or at the very least go ahead and create a homeowner’s association.”

During the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Committee meetings that transpired prior to the Town of Unicoi making an offer on the course, the homeowners originally presented a plan that centered on the town purchasing the property, and the homeowner’s entering a lease agreement to manage and market the course.

“Our business model was sort of created around that, but we have a plan B, sort of, in place,” said Williams. “We had favorable terms with the Town of Unicoi, but now we will just have to find an investor.”

Williams said regardless of who ends up purchasing or investing in the course, the homeowners’ and community stakeholders’ main priority is that they are able to participate in the operations and management of Buffalo Valley, contrary to what he says they experienced when the City of Johnson City ran the course.

“The City of Johnson City actually came in and almost pushed the citizens of Unicoi County in terms of what the fees are,” he said. “They increased membership fees for Unicoi County or gave discounts to City of Johnson City citizens. That’s a huge reason why all of the core members left and there were only three members left. It looks bad when people say the golf course wasn’t doing good, but that’s what happens when you basically shun your core members.”

Williams said when he first moved into his home on the golf course, he was essentially deterred from becoming a member by a Johnson City pro shop employee.

“We never felt like we were a part of the process or membership before,” said Williams. “We want to turn that around.”

Before the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Community moved forward, Williams said they are currently waiting to hear back from their attorneys on what legal rights they are entitled to.

“Then we will go from there,” he said. “We need to protect these approximately 216 lots. We need to protect our neighborhood. … We’re trying to find out how is the best way to go about protecting the integrity of the subdivision.”

The excavation work that was being carried out by the City of Johnson City near the tee box by Lakeview Drive, which according to City of Johnson City officials was to address drainage issues, has ceased but could potentially resume as talk has circulated that there may be plans to designate the area as a wetland.

Williams maintains that there were no drainage issues in the area and was initially concerned that the City of Johnson City began the work before acquiring a permit from TDEC or the Town of Unicoi.

Johnson City has since obtained a TDEC permit and was in the process of obtaining a permit from the Town of Unicoi, but Williams said the homeowners sent a letter to the town asking that officials rethink issuing the permit due to concerns that it could negatively impact property values and the landscape of the course.

“I asked Town of Unicoi officials to think about issuing that permit and the potential impact it could have for the property owners,” he said.

Williams said the permit has not been issued to Johnson City yet and overall he is optimistic about the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Community and their hopes to see Buffalo Valley as a flourishing golf course. He said there has been an outpouring of community support.

“People have told us, ‘whatever we can do to help you, just let us know’,” he said. “Any potential buyer will know they have the community support behind them. We want to make sure this organization is not just for the homeowners, but the main thing is that it is an entity moving forward that allows the whole community to participate.”

For more information, or to get involved with the Buffalo Valley Golf Course Community, contact Steve Williams at 423-8248 or Brandy Bevins at 220-7952.