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Jackson planners take public advice, relax some proposals

Proposed development regulations in Jackson County were made later this week after dozens of written public comments flooded the planning office expressing concerns.


The proposed regulations — in the form of a subdivision and steep slope ordinance — are still stricter than any other measures on the books in Western North Carolina. For example, the ordinances mandate open space as a part of every new development, vastly limit the number of homes on steep slopes, outlaw clear cutting for views in front of homes, and require hydrology and geotechnical reports as part of any construction on slopes over 30 percent.

Here’s a run down of some of the changes the planning board made:


Roads on ridges

What the ordinance said: Roads must stay 20 feet below the ridge line.

Related Items

Gripes: What if property straddles a ridge line? How do you get from one side to the other?

Changes: An exception was made if you need to get from one side to the other.


Who’s exempt

What the ordinance said: The steep slope ordinance applies to all construction and earth moving on slopes of more than 30 percent. While existing developments are exempt on the subdivision scale, lot owners within the subdivision will still have to comply when they go to build on their lot.

Gripes: Some of the provisions in the steep slope ordinance would render existing lots unusable. Owners of a small lot couldn’t stay within the percentage of a lot that can be disturbed and would exceed the minimum lot sizes for the slope.

Changes: Homes built on previously platted lots must comply “unless to do so would render the lot unusable.”

Good building pads

What the ordinance said: Developers creating subdivisions should ensure that every lot has a building pad somewhere on it with a slope of no more than 30 percent. Lots without a building pad of 30 percent slope can’t be created.

Gripes: Too restrictive.

“Unless I missed something here we just about ruled out most of Jackson County,” planning board member Joe Ward said.

Mike Eagan, a consultant to the planning board, said the purpose was to encourage developers to think about the orientation of lots to ensure good building pads were included on each one.

“We felt the subdivision of land should result in buildable sites. The purpose is to say, ‘Let’s not create a lot here unless you have a building site of at least 30 percent,’” Eagan said.

But the planning board was skeptical.

“I feel this section shouldn’t be there at all,” said Zac Koenig, a builder who is on the planning board.

“You don’t want to tie somebody’s hands not to be able to sell part of their property,” agreed planning board member Richard Frady.

Changes: Provision was removed.


Assessments and studies

What the ordinance said: Any construction on slopes of greater than 30 percent require a topographic survey, soils report, hydrology plan, tree survey and reforestation plan, geotechnical analysis and written assessment of the project’s impact on the environment.

Gripes: Too much to ask of individual lot owners building a house.

“These additional costs of construction would result in a miniscule increase for the owner of the million dollar homes,” but would be significant for average homeowners, wrote John Sullivan of Sullbark Builders in Cashiers.

Also, are there enough certified professionals to go around?

“I am all for a thoughtful building process, but I question the availability of individuals and firms to complete these requirements,” wrote Craig Green.

Changes: Planning board member Zac Koenig suggested doing away with the geotechnical analysis, but it wasn’t met well.

“If we are doing horse-trading, I would rather trade the reforestation plan and keep the geotechnical,” countered planning board member Joe Ward.

“Are there enough geotechnical advisers available for this?” asked Koenig, a builder.

“I’m not trying to be a smart aleck, but in the 1950s, there wasn’t a whole lot of use for builders around here. But as the call came, they came,” Ward replied.

“But how long will that take? I might need a geotechnical engineer next month,” Koenig said.

Ultimately, the planning board limited the portion of the property the various assessments would apply to. The assessments and studies would only have to be done for the portion of the lot being disturbed. The board also eliminated the summary of environmental impacts for individual homes, but kept it in place for the subdivision scale.


Limits on portion of a lot that can be paved or built on

What the ordinance said: The portion of a lot that can be covered with an impervious surface (i.e. roofs and driveways) was limited according to the slope. The same sliding scale also governed lot size.

Gripes: The percentages were too strict. For example, houses on slopes over 40 percent must have a minimum lot size of 5 acres, but only 2 percent of that lot could be covered in impervious surface. Two percent of 5 acres is 4,356 square feet — not enough for both a house footprint and driveway, especially a driveway for a five-acre lot.

Changes: The limits were raised minimally, from 2 percent to 5 percent for five acre lots on slopes of 40 percent, for example.

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