To the Editor:
We appreciate The Smoky Mountain News coverage on the steep slope issues in Macon County and would like to clarify and expand on some of the comments attributed to me, the vice chair of the Macon County Planning Board.
First, the best way to reduce the wrong types of steep slope development is to education the public, the developer and the realtor. Very few developers, realtors or buyers of real property want to spend time in court defending the way they build, sell or buy property. Ignorance is the biggest perpetrator of failing slopes and damaged homes.
The best approach toward protecting private property rights is to know what conditions are on your property before you disturb it. Some mountain lands contain soil conditions and slopes that are not stable and when disturbed, they alter the way rainwater flows thru the soils thereby making them even more unstable then before. Potential steep slope hazard maps are being generated in the western mountains that indicate caution when considering building on or disturbing them.
If county governments would create ordinances that require a builder, realtor and a future homeowner to attend a steep slope hazard program that would show the storm water runoff and sedimentation concerns that impact our drinking waters, along with the dangers of building on steep slopes before they can get a permit, then that would go a long way toward reducing the wrong types of development. No builder wants to be exposed to lawsuits due to shoddy ignorant work and no homeowner wants to invest in building a home that may be damaged by unstable soils.
In Macon County, we require land moving contractors to attend a work shop on grading roads, site pads and storm water runoff so they know what not to do.
The western mountain counties also need a full disclosure by real estate agents of property that has been identified that contains potential steep slope hazards so the potential buyer can make proper decisions and the realtor can be protected from potential lawsuits.
Education, education and education will go a long way toward preventing a bad developer from creating a poor development, a realtor from selling it and a buyer from investing in it. Personally, I find it hard to believe that a bad developer will want to come into a county on purpose that has a well-run mandated educational program which informs the buyers and sellers and developers what the issues are in steep slope development. Building and soil disturbance permits should not be issued unless builders and developers attend the program and sign off that they understand and will adhere to proper standards. Buyers should not buy a property unless they also were instructed on the pitfalls of steep slope development and realtors would certainly not want to sell a property without disclosing the potential of steep slope issues. They can’t knowingly sell a house with a leaky roof without disclosing it, so why would they want to sell a piece of land that may slide down a hill when maps are indicating that such a potential exists.
We need the cooperative efforts of all parties involved to protect, preserve and sustain the beauty of our mountains and the purity of the water in our springs, streams and rivers. Storm water runoff control and maintenance both during and after the development are key issues that require educational training. I have never found a well-informed developer or homebuyer making stupid mistakes when they understand the issues. If it turns out that people will still ignore common sense when building on steep slopes, then the county governments will have no choice but to impose rigid regulations. Before we do that I personally want to ask landowners, developers, realtors and potential homeowners for their help in controlling the wrong type of development and to set examples for others to follow.
The beauty of the mountain region is a joint asset owned by all and is entwined with personal property rights at all levels. If we don’t preserve the beauty and sustainability of the region then we all lose, because tourists will not want to stop, construction will not happen, jobs will decrease and the quality of life that brought everyone here will diminish.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to clarify my comments on this issue.
Vice Chair, Macon County Planning Board