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When you're hungrily eyeing the fat bacon-and-egg biscuits on the menu at Thirteen Pennies Cafe, remember your sweet-faced vegan friend. And consider that eating meat no more than twice a week is part of comprehensive climate change remediation. So you could opt for the egg-and-cheese biscuit, which is just as wonderful, because the cheese is baked into the biscuit. But order something at the valley's newest, most awesome cafe, inside the Children's Home Thrift Store on Lake Eden Road.

It's a reasonable meeting place for valley-dwellers and those who dare to build higher up, such as Rod Allen, who lives in The Settings.

A property owner in The Settings community since about 2010, Allen is quick to name why he and his wife chose Black Mountain as their retirement destination. You'll recognize the refrain, now so familiar.

"We looked around the country, and we also considered other countries we had traveled to in the past," Allen said. "We zeroed in on Western North Carolina, and proximity to Asheville, but when we walked around Black Mountain, we said: This is it.”

They were only too happy to leave Houston in the rear view mirror.

Locals will recall how the Great Recession caused a loan default in The Settings, and the whole place got very quiet for some years. Allen, who has an engineering background, became involved in The Settings HOA ( Home Owner’s Association), which took bold steps to finish the development as originally planned. Among those moves was suing the bond companies involved. 

As with the rest of the Swannanoa Valley and Western North Carolina in general, a vast amount of development is on the planning books compared to what is visible to the eye as you walk around. When the Allens finished their home only seven years ago, it was one of 15.

Today, 40 homes make up The Settings gated community, with another 10 in process.

According to its website, The Settings was designed as 271 lots on 370 acres, with some land in conservation easement. Most lots range from 0.25 acre to 1 acre, and a few are 10 to 15 acres. From down here in Black Mountain, when we look a thousand feet up at The Settings, we see only the trophy homes, which accommodate the largest of egos, and that one gawd-awful vertical driveway. I worry that it sends storm water rushing down to the valley and the Swannanoa River below. People from Florida, and their builders, typically don’t understand the relationship between speed, volume, and velocity in relation to storm water runoff here in our mountains.

The Settings website showcases the catchphrase: Where Convenience Meets Seclusion. Which gives a valley-dweller the sense that The Settings, and other gated communities like it, deliberately cater to folks who want a mountaintop view that separates them from the real community here. A lifestyle that encourages them to come into Black Mountain to shop and dine, and sometimes to complain audibly about the people here. People who are grappling with the real-life issues of living in today's world.

Allen, at least, is changing that cliched existence, since he has thrown his hat in the ring to fill a vacant slot on the Black Mountain Urban Forestry Commission. (As chair of the Urban Forestry Commission, I’m not allowed to make any public statements here, but between you and me, we’re sure glad to have his talents and expertise.)

When I wonder out loud if The Settings has its own sense of community, Allen says yes.

“We don’t have a lot of amenities, but we do have a clubhouse where we have potlucks and community meetings, we have our own municipal infrastructure, we have curbs and gutters, we have our own trails," he said.

In my next column, I’ll continue to update you on what’s new at The Settings gated community.

Sheridan Hill’s column explores small town charm. She is a lifelong Tar Heel, the founder of Real Life Stories LLC, which publishes heirloom biography for select clientele, and she facilitates the Black Mountain Grief Circle.

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