Swain nearly ready to vote on road rules

By Julia Merchant • Staff Writer

Swain County’s first-ever planning board is nearly finished with its first project — drafting an ordinance to regulate road construction — and will send it on to county commissioners to review next week.

The planning board, created six months ago, met Thursday (Sept. 13) to discuss final changeto the regulations based upon a series of public comment sessions. The sessions drew marked interest from the community, with local builders and developers coming out to have their say.

With only six members of the planning board in attendance — barely enough to make a quorum — there was discussion about postponing the meeting until a later time. The board decided to go ahead, however.

Chairman Jonathan Douthit said it was important to finish the county’s first planning regulations — a historic achievement for Swain.

“The reason we’re trying to codify this is that people’s common sense and good intentions couldn’t be counted on. We’ve seen some egregious situations, and a set of objective standards will eliminate our having to depend on someone’s good nature,” Douthit said.

Before the regulations were created, there were no rules for roads built in subdivisions — they could be as steep or narrow as a developer liked, and were often constructed without regard for slope stability or engineering practices. The lack of regulation made it difficult for emergency vehicles to access developments.

Board member John Seay pitched in his two cents about the need to go ahead and craft the ordinance despite a few naysayers.

“No matter what we do, not everybody’s going to be happy. We’re here to try to prevent any more eradication of our land because of poor planning or no planning and poor construction — we can’t lose sight of what we’ve been tasked for,” said Seay.

Barring any negative feedback from commissioners, the changes made by the planning board to the subdivision ordinance will be the ones to go into effect. Some highlights of the draft ordinance are:

• Road grades are capped at 20 percent, with an exception of up to 25 percent if a professional engineer that no other feasible option exists.

• Portions of a road that exceed a 15 percent grade must be paved, as well as 100 feet on either end of the section that exceeds 15 percent. This was changed from the original proposal, which called for paving 300 feet at either end.

• The road grade in a switchback cannot exceed a 10 percent grade (the only regulation not yet finalized by the planning board).

• The turning radius of curves must be 35 feet from the centerline. This means fire trucks won’t have to do a three-point turn to get through a curve.

• Dead-ends must have either a center turning radius of 35 feet or accommodate and “T” or “Y” turn around.

• There must be at least 4 inches of compacted material atop the road surface.

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