Land Planners Share Vision for Community Improvements

March 1, 2017—Balsam Mountain Preserve, a conservation-oriented residential community in the Blue Ridge Mountains, has hired Stephen Wyda and Ryan Blau of Asheville-based Vision Design Collaborative to provide land planning and landscape design services for an upcoming improvement project, entitled “Doubletop Village,” that will put Balsam Mountain Preserve at the forefront of private communities in North Carolina.

The new development is named after its view of two nearby mountain peaks known locally as “Double Top.” Currently in the “design development” phase, Wyda and Blau are planning the expansion of existing amenities and the addition of a village center that will include a Members’ Grille, a Tavern, a general store and adjoining activities lawns, as well as new cottages that will be available for purchase this spring. The project is funded by the community’s new owners and membership initiation fees from community residents who share a common interest in and vision for the future direction of Balsam.

Set on 4,400 acres—of which 3,400 have been placed in a permanent conservation easement—Balsam Mountain Preserve is the lowest density residential development in the western North Carolina mountains. It has everything one would expect from such a community including spacious homes, breathtaking views, an Arnold Palmer Signature golf course, an equestrian facility, a family Sports & Wellness Center with swim, tennis and fitness facilities, a beautiful restaurant and lodge and 35 miles of private hiking, biking and equestrian trails.

Updates to the existing Sports & Wellness Center are scheduled to commence this spring. In addition to expanding its fitness and spa offerings, the goal of the remodel is to make the Center more conducive to family use. “By opening up the design dialogue and making the interior and exterior spaces communicate better, it all seems to be one space,” Stephen Wyda explains. “It will make it much more enjoyable for a larger variety of ages.”

The purpose of the new village center is to provide an additional gathering place for homeowners to create memories with their neighbors and to facilitate a sense of community among residents. The nearby golf cottages will be higher-density and on a smaller-scale than typical Balsam households, offering a lower-maintenance product for potential buyers.

Included in Wyda and Blau’s scope of work was the task of identifying a parcel of land within the 4,400-acre retreat that would allow for the construction of a village center and accompanying amenities. As 75 percent of the land has restrictive covenants in place, this limited their options. In addition to determining where there was potential to facilitate more density within the community, they also had to consider if there was a way to get that density in without disrupting/disturbing the mountain environment. They conducted a visual impact study to eliminate any visually sensitive areas.

“We wanted to be sure our plan reflected the values of Balsam, which is first and foremost maintaining its natural assets,” Ryan Blau explains. “We were looking for a way to complement its natural beauty—but also doing what makes most sense, both financially and for the community.”

The site they settled on for the club amenities was the current driving range adjacent to the golf course. The original proposed site was at a lower elevation, but they ended up choosing the driving range because the views were more compelling. Arnold Palmer Design has been contracted to create a new, state-of-the-art golf practice facility in an alternate site to take the place of the driving range.

“It’s a unique situation because the owner is invested not only as a developer, but also as a Balsam resident,” Wyda explains. “These folks are his neighbors, which puts a little more pressure on him to respect the other homeowners. And it’s apparent that he has the trust and support of the community.”

During the design development phase, Wyda and Blau are determining road placement, selecting materials and securing cost estimates. The next phase includes permitting and technical drawings.

Having worked in the Southeast for the past 13 years, Wyda and Blau have been involved in the design, management and implementation of many successful projects including several private mountain residences, university and school projects, mixed-use village centers, an event center campus, as well as the design of various mountain communities. They have a strong passion for pursuing creative design solutions that are environmentally sensitive and that speak to the historical and cultural vernacular of the site.

For more information on the progress of Balsam Mountain Preserve, call their sales office at (866) 452-3456 or visit