BLUEFIELD, Va. — Nearly three centuries ago, when pioneer families first arrived on the portion of the Allegheny Mountain Range they would name East River Mountain, they searched for level land to build their homes, raise cattle and plant gardens and other crops.

The mountainous region remained sparsely settled for almost a century, but the coal boom of the 1880s and the subsequent promise of good-paying jobs, brought new settlers into the region by the tens of thousands. The new arrivals wanted flat land too, but those kind of building lots were scarce in the best of times, but even harder to come by as the region’s population grew.

With undeveloped property at a premium, there appeared to be nowhere else to go but Up, and that’s where one North Carolina developer looked ... up on the mountain. Just last year, a Davidson, N.C.-based developer with local ties — Diamondback Development LLC and Jewel Development Company — started working on Cove Creek, a 1700-acre development on the southern slope of East River Mountain in Tazewell County that features very large lots averaging 17.5 acres each, with a total of 99 lots, most featuring a spectacular view into the heart of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

“The Cove Creek property development is a unique project that offers large tracts of land for nature lovers from all over the East Coast,” Jay Shott, of Diamondback Development said. “This low impact community also offers long range views, flat, easy to build areas, trout waters, gated entrances from State Route 662, with a 4.5-acre common area with a beautiful waterfall and access to Cove Creek.”

To be sure, the mountainside is one of the most remarkable areas in the region. However, the recent construction of American Electric Power’s 765 kV power line through the area altered the previous seamless mountain forest appearance of the large tract of land. Still, the views are breathtaking, so much so that in the late 1930s, civic leaders in Bluefield convinced the local leaders of the Civilian Conservation Corps to establish a camp on top of the mountain and build a Skyline Drive-styled scenic road on top of East River Mountain as a tourist draw. The arrival of World War II brought an end to that project.

The Cove Creek project is in a remote area that is not readily visible from I-77, although it is accessible from State Route 61 about midway between Rocky Gap, Va., and Tazewell, Va. State Route 662 becomes Mountain Lane Avenue at the top of the mountain where the Bluefield, Va., town limits begin at an elevation of 2,389 feet, making it “Virginia’s Tallest Town.” While Dominion and BP Wind Energy North America’s planned windmill farm on the mountain to the east of Cove Creek has received a great deal more attention in the press, Cove Creek has quietly sold about half of its available lots, and is in the process of bringing electric utilities into the area.

“The property has been kept reasonably close to its natural state and includes a rustic road system and large wooded tracts,” Shott said. Jay Shott is the son of Mike Shott, former owner of Adventure Communications and chairman and CEO of Bluefield-based Janpak. “In 2008, Cove Creek’s property owners association grew to 40-plus members from Florida to New Jersey. Most of the new property owners are planning to use the property for second homes, vacation property or for permanent retirement homes.”

Shott said the development company sold half of its lots in less than six months. “The owners of Diamondback Development have strong local ties and are pleased to offer those unfamiliar with the natural beauty of southwestern Virginia an opportunity to see it for themselves,” Shott said. “So far, their response has been overwhelmingly positive.”

Like most large developments, Cove Creek had more to do than just clear roadways to the remote mountain lots. The developer met several times with the Tazewell County Planning Commission, and during the process of requesting an exemption for building access roads to the parcels, found a way to address a width-specification that would put the development in compliance with Virginia Department of Highway standards. Each parcel in the development has a connection to the state road, and since all are in excess of five-acres, Cove Creek did not have to bring the access roads to VDOT standards.

“When they came before the Planning Commission requesting an exception, the commission had a list of things they needed to do to get the exemption,” Eric Young, Tazewell County attorney said. Young said the developer “did record their restructured covenants,” and while the commission “offered them an exception,” Diamondback created a connection from each tract to the state-maintained road.

Tazewell County Administrator Jim Spencer called the procedure, Pipesteming,” and Young said that some lots are only about 5 feet wide at the road, but eventually expand to as much as 800 feet wide. “Our ordinance had jurisdictional limits,” Young said. “We could not regulate parcels of over five acres.” Young said the county has since revised the ordinance to remove the jurisdictional limits.

In the mean time, Diamondback is proud of the progress it is making on the development. “We have natural beauty in our area, and we want to leave is as natural as we can,” Shott said.

– Contact Bill Archer at barcher@bdtonline.com

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