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The Area

Future I26 connecting Asheville with Johnson City, Tennessee has opened access to Madison County, one of the last rural retreats in the Blue Ridge. We have found a secluded cove 15 minutes from a couple of lovely small towns quickly becoming cultural off-shoots of Asheville—itself the cultural center of the Southern Appalachians.

Marshall, the Madison County Seat, sits beautifully on the French Broad River while Mars Hill hosts the oldest college in western North Carolina.  Between them, you can find all the necessities as well as coffee shops, good restaurants, a farmers market, music, art and theater, with Asheville only a little more than a half hour away.

The area has attracted a wealth of people with interest and experience in sustainable, eco-friendly, energy efficient design and construction, log and timber framing and organic farming.


The Retreat at Wolf Mountain is being developed by John Howell and Jeff Relich.

John has thirty years of experience as a General Contractor including high performance and timber framed construction and has developed land. Jeff has thirty years focused on high performance home design and construction—advanced insulation techniques, solar, geothermal and other heating and cooling systems as well as water and waste management. He is LEED accredited by the U.S. Green Building Council.

Between us, we are capable of orchestrating the information and people needed to develop the site and design and construct advanced, high performance homes based on renewable resources. 

For more information on us, please visit the Developers section of the website. 

The Site

Mountain folks didn’t sing “Keep on the Sunny Side” for nothing!  Then and now, the most important thing in deciding where to build a home is solar orientation.  A north slope condemns the home to several winter months with no light at all.  Not only does spring come earlier and gardens grow better on a southern slope, but a well designed home can gather more than half of its heat, free from the sun!

The entire 250 acres of The Retreat at Wolf Mountain, from the stream to the 4,000 foot ridge, is a southeastern slope—ideal for building high performance, solar powered homes.

General Strategy

The Retreat at Wolf Mountain is a 250 acre southeastern slope with a bold stream, private road and utility power at the bottom and quiet forest trails with beautiful long range views higher up.

Typical development would be to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars bringing roads and power to all parts of the mountain.  The effect would be to drive up the land costs, maybe increase density, and spoil the tranquility of the forest we want to enjoy.

A better approach might be to use the roads and utility power at the base of the mountain for a more typical dwelling, maybe near gardens, orchards, pasture and barn, and then plan and build a cabin retreat higher in the quiet solitude of the forest; that relies entirely upon available renewable resources.

Investment Strategy

Madison County zoning regulations allow for ten acre lots without more intensively developed infrastructure.  Based on that and our ecological survey, we propose dividing our 250 acres into three classes of lots at ten acres each:

  • (8) Meadow lots where dwellings can be built near the existing road and utility power
  • (8) Forest lots where dwellings can be built relying entirely on renewable resources
  • (8) Conservation lots based on the ecological assessment identifying natural assets to be protected for all to enjoy.

Each of the original eight shareholders would purchase (1) ten acre lot from each class for a total of thirty non-contiguous acres.  Thus, each shareholder would have one building site near the infrastructure, one building site high on the mountain with distant views, and one ten acre parcel of protected land to serve as a buffer between dwellings.