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Wednesday, 04 October 2006 00:00

Haywood proposal would regulate slope construction

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Slope proposal

• Cut-and-fill slopes taller than 40 feet are not allowed.

 

• An engineer certification is required for a cut-and-fill slope taller than 10 feet.

• An engineer certification is required for a cut slope that exceeds a 1:1 ratio of run to rise— in other words, a slope cut into a mountain that is steeper than one horizontal foot for one vertical foot.

• An engineer certification is required for a fill slope that exceeds a 1.5:1 ratio of run to rise — in other words a slope where soil is piled up steeper than 1.5 horizontal feet for one vertical foot.

• Cut or fill slopes must be set back from adjacent property lines.

• Roads and road shoulders leading to multiple homes must be compacted. Roadbeds that are not packed down firmly by machinery can slump in or crumble as the soil beneath settles.

 

Haywood County commissioners are considering an ordinance that would regulate building on steep slopes. A public hearing on the ordinance will be held at 5 p.m., Monday, Oct. 16, on the third floor of the new justice center in Waynesville.

Currently there are no regulations for development on steep slopes. Anyone with a backhoe or bulldozer can slice and dice the mountainside. Improper development has resulted in collapsing roads that are barely passable. In worst-case scenarios, unstable slopes have slumped down on houses or slipped out from under them.

The primary purpose of the ordinance is safety, according to county planners. It is not necessarily intended to address environmental or aesthetic concerns from accelerated development on steep slopes.

The county planning board has been working on the ordinance for a year. It requires engineer certification for slopes taller than 10 feet or steeper than a certain threshold. The ordinance was presented to the county commissioners at a meeting Monday (Oct. 2).

Commissioner Larry Ammons said he has gotten more feedback on the slope ordinance — nearly all supportive — than any other issue in his two years as commissioner. The ordinance will not be a fix-all, however, Ammons said.

“There seems to be a feeling by some people that this ordinance will stop slides,” Ammons said.

The county erosion control inspector pointed to a disclaimer of sorts in the ordinance that says “unstable conditions occur even in natural slopes undisturbed by man.”

Ammons said shortcomings in the ordinance could be discovered in the future and need tightening.

“It is not going to be the end of the story,” Ammons said. “We have to start somewhere,and this is a good place to get started.”

Commissioner Kevin Ensley, a land surveyor, asked county planners how they arrived at the threshold for how steep is too steep, thus requiring an engineer certification.

“We’ve gone around and around on that number,” said Mark Pruett, erosion control officer.

Ensley said the proposed threshold that triggers engineer certification seems reasonable.

“I don’t want to say it is lenient, but it is common sense,” Ensley said.

County planner Kris Boyd predicts some developers will scale back their cut-and-fill slopes to stay beneath the thresholds for oversight.

“We hope it would encourage better practices,” Boyd said.

The ordinance also aims to place responsibility on developers for problems that arise from unstable slopes. If a cut-and-fill slope triggers an engineer certification, both the developer and property owner must sign an authorized statement accepting financial responsibility.

If the developer does not live in North Carolina, he or she must have a registered agent who does in case the county needs to contact someone about the development. The purpose is to avoid absentee developers who improperly tear up a mountainside, creating an unsafe situation for homebuyers and neighbors, and then leave town with no way to track them down to correct violations.

The county will have to add an extra position to the planning staff to implement the ordinance. A county engineering board will be created to oversee the ordinance and approve or deny development plans.

The ordinance has faced only minor opposition from the development lobby. Both the Haywood County Home Builders Association and Haywood County Realtors Association were given a chance to comment on the ordinance. Parts of the ordinance were rewritten based on comments from both groups. The primary complaint from the groups was that the ordinance was too technical and used too many engineering terms. Most of the rewriting was simply substituting simpler language.

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